College’s Best Kept Secret: The College Placement Tests

This is a time to celebrate the acceptance letter(s), weigh in the financial aid packet(s), and decide on the college that you’d like to attend this fall. Before we go any further let me congratulate you on your acceptance. While the focus now is on enjoying the senior year of high school, the prom, and spending as much time as possible with your high school friends, please know that there is one more thing you need to pay close attention to. It has everything to do with high school and everything to do with college. It’s the college placement test and it’s one of the best kept secrets in higher education. The college placement test is administered by the vast majority of institutions (colleges/universities) to a large portion of the incoming freshmen class.

Studies have found that the majority of high school graduates are not prepared for the rigors of college work or what is commonly referred to as college ready. About 75 percent of the colleges and universities test their incoming freshman to determine if they are ready for college level courses. This is the part where you’ll probably say, but I have a decent SAT score and a good high school GPA so I don’t need to be tested.

College placement tests are administered during orientation and all the students that have SAT/ACT scores and sometimes GPAs below certain thresholds will get tested. So the first thing to do as you read this post is:

  1. Check out the cutoff scores for the college placement test for your institution. Go to the college/university’s website and look for the college placement test cutoff score and see how your scores fare in regards to it. If you scored above these thresholds you’re good to go and don’t need to read the rest of the post. If you scored below then read on.
  2. Freshmen Orientation. If you need to take the placement test you’ll be taking it during orientation. There is a point during orientation where students who need to take the test are provided with the location and time of the test.
  3. Math, Reading, & Writing. Typically the test assesses college readiness in areas such as Math, Reading, and Writing. Based on your scores you may need to take the test in only one area.
  4. Remedial Education. Based on your placement test scores you may be required to complete certain courses to fill in the gaps. These courses need to be completed prior to taking college level courses. These may be called remedial or developmental education courses.


College placement tests have pros and cons associated with them. On one hand, college placement tests ensure that the gaps are identified and they get filled in structured systematic way through targeted activities (which can be independent courses or run in parallel with college level courses –co-requisites). Therefore, students are more likely to successful in college level courses if these gaps are filled. On the other hand, remedial courses can carry significant costs:

  • The price tag. Remedial education courses, in certain cases, have credit hours associated with them. That means that students will need to pay for them by credit hour just like for every other college level course in terms of tuition and fees. These credits will not count towards the academic program/major requirements. In extreme cases students can use their financial aid funds to pay for these courses and may exhaust these funds before attempting college level courses.
  • Studies showed that the more time students spend in remedial education the less likely they are to graduate. Therefore, remedial education courses may delay graduation and sometimes they may even prevent it because students get discouraged and drop out.


Therefore, college placement tests deserve a lot of attention. Here are some strategies on how to deal with them if you have to take the tests this fall:

  • Identify the test. Many colleges and universities use existing tests for college placement. Some of these tests are PERT, ACCUPLACER, COMPASS, etc. Other institutions use their own tests. Look on the college/university’s website to find out what type of tests they use.
  • Once you figured out the test your institution uses start preparing. Some of these tests have study guides and practice sheets so look for them online or at the local library. If the college/university uses an in-house test see if you can find any information and practice tests on the institution’s website.
  • Save Time & Money. If you master the college placement test and score above the thresholds you’ll be saving yourself a significant amount of time and money on college.

College placement tests are one of the best kept secrets in higher education. They are used by many colleges and universities because there is a disconnect between high school and college standards. Performance on these exams can carry significant costs since the outcomes associated with these tests i.e. remedial education, can increase the overall cost of college and delay graduation. Students who are aware of these college placement tests and ace them are more likely to complete college in a timely manner without incurring any additional costs.

8 thoughts on “College’s Best Kept Secret: The College Placement Tests”

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