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What are college placement tests?

Published June 11, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    A college placement test (CPT) is a test or a set of tests that incoming college freshman students may take to determine their skill level in a variety of different subjects. It’s important to note that not every college requires CPT exams, and not every student is required to take CPT exams before enrolling in classes.

    On a positive note, students don’t need to think about CPT exams while applying to college.  These exams typically only take place at the beginning of someone’s college career, and once they’re done, they’re done.

    In this article, we’ll cover exactly what CPT exams are and why colleges use them.

    Why would I take the CPT exam?

    The purpose of these exams is to ensure that students enroll in classes that match their existing skill level in subjects such as writing and math.

    A lot of colleges use these tests to determine a student’s college readiness level.

    Why do colleges use the CPT exam?

    Many two-year colleges have open admissions policies which result in many students being admitted with varying degrees of readiness for college-level classes. Taking this exam gives school officials a clear idea of which classes each student should be taking based on their test results.

    Though the CPT sounds very similar to the standardized exams you take during the college admissions process, they’re not the same. CPT exams are not standardized across the country. Instead, colleges and universities develop their own versions.

    Oftentimes schools offer these tests electronically, and students get their results as soon as they’re done taking them.

    CPTs usually test students’ math, reading, and writing skills. Some schools — depending on their specialization and your desired major — may require that you take foreign language and science CPT exams as well.

    When’s a good time to take required CPTs?

    CPT exams don’t fall under the standardized test umbrella. Because of that, you don’t need to take these exams in order to apply to college.

    You also don’t need to sign up for them. The schools you get accepted to will either include CPT exams in the list of supplemental requirements needed to complete your admission process or sign you up for them after you become officially enrolled.

    Should I prepare for CPTs?

    Your score on a CPT simply determines what your skill level in a subject currently is — it's not a pass or fail exam. You’re not required to study for a CPT exam, though we understand the impulse. Remember, these are purposely offered to determine students’ abilities to help place them in the right classes.

    One thing you can do to prepare is to contact your school’s admissions office to ask them questions about the exam or exams they’re going to require you to take. In doing so, you will be able to get a better sense of which subjects you will need to take, when the deadlines are, and so on.

    What do my CPT results mean?

    Students who are more advanced in a subject may test out of an introductory course because of their results on a CPT which can help them finish general education requirements (if they have them) faster.

    Alternatively, a CPT result may show that a student needs extra help in a subject before they can handle certain college-level courses. If this is the case, the school might enroll a student in remedial courses such as pre-calculus or a freshman writing seminar.

    It’s not uncommon for colleges to offer remedial courses to students who need them to ensure students can have a smooth transition into college.

    Final thoughts

    There are a lot of tests that students must take to enter college, but CPT exams are tests to potentially expect once enrolled in college. For the most part, these aren’t exams that students should worry about, they are used to assess a students' knowledge of certain topics to place them in the appropriate classes.