12 Chapter 12: Assessment Testing

Alise Lamoreaux

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”

– C.D. Jackson

Congratulations! You are accepted into college. Now what? Before you can begin signing up for classes, most colleges will require you to take Assessment Tests.

Some Things to Think About:

  • What are the purpose of the assessments?
  • Can a student fail the assessments?
  • Where are the assessments given?
  • What does a student need to do to sign up to take the assessments?
  • How much does it cost to take the assessments?
  • Can a student re-take the assessment test if he or she is not happy with the score?
  • How long are the assessment test scores valid?
  • Can a student study for the assessment test?

The Assessment Tests are entrance examinations that are often required as part of the admissions and matriculation process for many community colleges and other schools in the United States. Assessment exams are not scored on the basis of pass or fail. The Assessments test students in reading, writing, and math. The test results help place each student in the most appropriate level of classes. The goal is to place students into classes that are not too difficult or too easy.

Community colleges tend to rely on placement testing because students entering these colleges have a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. The test results may mean a student can skip introductory level classes or that students need to refresh or build skills in a specific area. However, if a student gets a low score on the tests, he or she may need to take extra classes to be able to register for a certain class in a specific program.

Across the college campus, in many different classes, a student will be asked to read and write on a daily basis as part of the class activities. Even a Speech class will require writing! As a result, many classes have a prerequisite requirement for writing.

Many students have not taken a math class recently, or been using more than basic math in their daily lives, and may need to refresh or build their skills to be able to handle the course requirements of college. Also, certain programs emphasize specific math skills in order for students to be successful in those programs of study. Culinary Arts students must be proficient with the math skills needed for menu planning and food cost analysis. Those are different skills than a Nursing student. A Nurse needs to be proficient in math related to dosage and other measurements. The purpose of the placement tests is to help students identify their abilities. It is important for students to take the placement tests seriously since the test scores will influence course selection. Scoring well on placement tests can save a student time and money.

Which Student in the Video Reflects Your Attitude About College Placement Tests?

Video: College Placement Test Video, Golden West College.

https://youtu.be/gxQbDAWHcUI

Can a Student Study for College Placement Tests?

Students often wonder if they should study for assessment tests. Studying and becoming familiar with the type of test you will be taking is a good idea. Many College Assessment websites include sample questions. If a student is unhappy with their assessment score, retesting options usually exist, but vary from college to college. Check the policy of the college you are choosing to attend. Poor performance on an assessment may end up costing the student extra time and money. If the student has to take extra classes to build the skills needed for college that may change the timeline for the student’s goal and target completion.

Community colleges often have free or low-cost options for improving a student’s skill level for college courses. Check to see what options exist at the college you have selected in terms of improving assessment scores. Many first-generation college students find attending Adult Basic Education classes to be very helpful for getting ready for the rigors of college expectations. Along with improving academic skills, a student can also become familiar with the culture of the college before becoming a full-time student.

The assessment test is a general term and not the name of a specific test. Colleges may use different standardized tests as their assessment. Two of the most common tests are Accuplacer and Compass. As of June 18, 2015, ACT, the company who makes Compass, said in the article Finding A New Compass[1]that it will discontinue making the test and phase out its use. If the college you have selected has been using Compass as its assessment, changes may be happening for that college. ALEKS is an assessment system that is gaining momentum with the departure of Compass. ALEKS stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces.

Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out which standardized test is being given by the college. If you have difficulty finding the name of the test the college is using, try the search engine on the college website for the keywords “college placement test.”

It is possible to study for these tests and to become familiar with the format of the tests. Some college websites may have study resources listed to help students prepare for the assessment test. Check with the college you select to see if resources are suggested.

Assessment tests using Accuplacer utlize an “adaptive” test model. It gives students one question at a time. You must answer every question it presents. When you get a question correct, the computer adapts by giving a harder question worth more points for the next question. A wrong answer gives you an easier question worth fewer points for the next question.

Many colleges also use “multiple measures” to determine a students’ placement level. Sometimes high school grades for English and math are used along with other indicators a college has approved.

Licenses and attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Authored by: Alise Lamoreaux.  Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-7/  License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, chapter title changed from Placement Testing, changed references from College Testing Placement to Assessment Test, some content edited for broader audience, Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend TED Talk relocated to Health unit.

All rights reserved content:

College Placement Test Video. Authored by: ImageworksVideo for Golden West College. Located at: https://youtu.be/gxQbDAWHcUI  License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.


  1. Fain, Paul. “Finding a New Compass.” insidehighered.com. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/18/act-drops-popular-compass-placement-test-acknowledging-its-predictive-limits (accessed April 26, 2018).

This chapter is adapted from Chapter 12: Assessment Testing in Blueprint for Success in College and Career by Dave Dillon.

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Blueprint for Success in College and Career by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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