It's a jungle out there, so you need a guide.
Quick Tip: Bring a photo ID to the placement test; they need to know you're you.
What is a college placement test?
Almost all students starting college everywhere take a test to help determine what courses they should take in three important areas: Reading, Writing, & Math. These tests are taken on computers.
Reading. You will read a passage that is from one to four or five sentences long. That's followed by a question and that's followed by four choices. Sometimes the question asks about the meaning of what you read, and sometimes it asks what a sentence is doing in the passage (choices for that question might be "It is contradicting the previous sentence" or "It is supplying a supporting example"). The choice you want may not be among the four that you are given, but don't let that bother you. Just pick the best option, and you can go back and re-read the passage if you want. (Notice, though, that once you leave a passage and its question, you cannot go back to it.) Then you do that over again, 20 times in all for JCC. Our test is not timed, but some reading tests are, so be sure you know before you start.
One other thing: JCC's reading test adapts to your skill level. That means if you get a question right, the next question will be harder, and if you answer that one right the next will be even harder. The questions will keep getting harder until you get some wrong; that's how it knows your level, see? So if the questions seem to get worse, that means you're doing really well!
Writing. Some colleges measure writing with multiple choice questions, but most, including JCC, give you a topic and ask you to write an essay that's from 300 to 600 words long. We give you 60 minutes to do that. You will be taking a writing course, and this test will tell you which one.
Math. You will need to select which math test to take, so remember how much training in math you have had and think about how much you remember, too: no algebra, or a little, or algebra is easy, or you're comfortable with precalculus, and so forth. As with writing, JCC requires you to take a college-level math course, and this test determines which course is right for you. And as with the reading test, this one is adaptive too, so when the questions keep getting harder you can be confident that you've been giving right answers.
What kinds of questions will be asked?
Sample questions are linked below, but first one word of caution. You will find publishers who sell books or programs on how to prepare for college placement tests. Unlike the SAT and ACT preparation programs, which help many, the guides to placement tests are not worth the money. Their pitch goes like this:
First they try to scare you by having you imagine how devastated you will be when you find out that you can't get into the college-level courses that all your friends are in, all because of Accuplacer (that's the name of the placement tests JCC uses). Second, they tell you that standardized tests don't measure what you know but only how well you can play the game of taking the test. Third, they promise to explain all the rules of the Accuplacer game if you will just buy their book (the one I've seen costs $39.99).
Even if this were true, do you really want to use some trick so you jump into courses that you don't have the background for? If you're tempted, at least wait until you have read this LibGuide before spending your money.
Why does the college require me to take it?
The purpose of the test is to get you enrolled in the right class. Here's the most important thing I have to say in this box: You cannot fail a placement test. It's just not that kind of test.
So it is not like a driver's test or a drug test or my biology final in tenth grade. Those can be failed. It's more like the eye exam you take to get fitted for contacts. The optician never tells you that you failed and you must leave the office immediately. Instead, everyone involved tries to get a true measure of how well you can see so you wind up with the right pair of contact lenses.
We want to get you into the right courses, and by that we mean right for you, not for us. As long as you are not in a math course where you have no idea what those symbols on the board mean, and you don't find yourself in a writing course where everything being taught is stuff you already know, then the college is good.
What are the consequences of the placement test?
The reading test will determine if you need either one of two preparatory courses in reading before you get into courses which place a high demand on your reading skills. It's likely that you have never taken courses which required that you get as much out of your reading as you will in college. Think about this: in high school you met about 225 minutes a week in a course that lasted about 36 weeks. In college, you work at a higher level in courses that meet for 150 minutes per week over fifteen weeks. That huge difference in time spent learning in the classroom is mostly made up by your reading. Much less time with an instructor; much more time with a textbook. And the second thing to remember is that most of us don't really know how good a reader we are, since it's pretty hard for people to compare their reading ability. How well we read is mostly invisible. At JCC, reading courses do not carry college credit.
The writing test will direct you into one of three writing classes: Essential Writing Skills is not for college credit and works on basic correctness; English Composition 1 is for college credit and builds essay and paper writing abilities; English Composition 2 develops your research writing skills.
The math test will help an advisor place you into one of these:
- a non-college credit course in prealgebra
- non-college credit courses in algebra
- a college credit course in problem solving
- college credit courses in algebra or statistics
- courses in precalculus or calculus
All JCC students must take at least one college-credit math course. Which one and how many others you will need depend upon what degree you seek.
What is the difference between college-credit and non-college credit courses? A course that does not earn college credit (instead, it earns imputed credit) does not contribute to the credit hours you need for your degree; that's 60 college credits for most Associate degrees. In general, courses receiving imputed credit cover material traditionally handled in high schools, though usually at an advanced pace.
About me & Disclaimer
I am Dale Yerpe, professor of English at Jamestown Community College. I've written this guide to answer questions about placement and to remove some misconceptions that I hear from time to time. If you have questions this guide doesn't answer, the best thing you can do is pick up the phone and call the college at 716-338-1065.
While the college has supported me in developing this LibGuide, JCC cannot be held responsible for the opinions and conclusions in it. Similarly, the websites linked here are offered for whatever usefulness they may have and do not necessarily represent the views of either myself or JCC.