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For colleges, English placement tests are a valuable tool for measuring the language proficiency and fluency of incoming and new students, so that all students can be set up to succeed in their classes. English placement test results are used to place students in a course that matches their level of skill and instructional needs, ensuring that they don’t wind up taking a class that’s too easy or too difficult. Of course, the idea of an upcoming test can trigger anxiety for many new college students. In reality, however, there is no need to stress. Not only is the point of the test to help you, but there are also several things you can do to prepare!

1. Read broadly

“Placement tests look for reading skills. Are you able to determine the meaning of a word or text in context?” shares Beth Virtanen, PhD, an English Professor and Assistant Program Director for South University, Online Programs. “They’re also checking vocabulary and your understanding of sentence structure, punctuation and grammar skills. The key to improving all of those things is reading.”

Whether it’s books, news articles or magazines, find something you like to read and spend time doing it every day. “You develop your vocabulary through reading,” Virtanen says. “You also develop a passive knowledge of how language is structured and an ability to recognize what is correct and what isn’t.”

2. Ask questions

If you’ll be taking an English placement test, don’t be afraid to request more information from your school. Your admissions and academics team should be able to provide details on what the test will cover, when you need to take the test and the testing format. For example, at South University, our online students take the test in the third week of their Strategies for Success course whereas our campus students take the exam prior to the start of their first quarter. In both cases, the tests are multiple choice and taken on a computer.

3. Practice using your skills

For high school students getting a head start on college prep, this strategy for improving your skills is straightforward. “Take a writing class,” advises Virtanen. “In general, look for classes that interest you and motivate you to put in your best effort.” For those whose high school days are behind them, this advice can still apply! Anyone can find classes covering writing and other topics online, at a local library or through other local organizations – often available at no charge. Classes in history, sociology, literature and other similar areas can also get you reading or writing about topics you enjoy. Whatever class you choose, the more often you’re using your reading and writing skills, the stronger those skills will become.

4. Search out sample tests

As your test date approaches, look for practice tests and study tools online. “Accuplacer and TestPrep-Online are two common sites that offer a good starting point,” says Virtanen. Students can also inquire with their university whether there is any particular site or practice test they recommend.

5. Brush up on test-taking strategies

The same test-taking strategies that help with any other test also apply here. During a test, review the full directions, read each question carefully, and trust your instincts and context clues when it comes to choosing an answer. “If you’ve engaged in reading and writing, you’ll have an innate sense that will help you respond,” Virtanen explains. “When working through the test, use a process of elimination. If you’re not sure of an answer, look at which answer is least likely to be true and discount that. Make your selection from the remaining options, eliminating answers one by one where you can.”

For reading passages, if a word seems unfamiliar, take your best guess from the context around it and the overall feeling or tone of the passage. No matter what, it’s important to remain calm and not get upset if you don’t know the answers. “These tests are designed to locate you in the appropriate class,” Virtanen emphasizes. “There is no failing or doing poorly. Instead trust that the results will ensure you have the learning experiences you need to do well in college.”