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How Do I Study for a Placement Test for Going Back to School After 50?

by Flora Richards-Gustafson

If you’re going back to school as an older non-traditional student, the thought of having to take a test before you even sign up for classes may seem nerve-racking. Colleges have students take placement tests to determine which reading, English and math courses are the most appropriate. Taking the time to properly prepare for a placement test can save you time, as most colleges limit the number of re-tests you can complete.

Know the Testing Formats

While many placement tests have multiply choice questions, don’t assume that yours will. As you begin to study for the placement tests, ask the testing center about the format of the different tests. Information to find out includes the number of questions on each test, testing time limits, materials that you have to bring and the types of questions on each test. When you have an idea about a test’s format, you can use it as a guide for your studies. For example, if you learn that you have to write an essay, you know to devote time to enhancing your writing skills. If you need any special accommodations for or during the test, like a testing booklet with large print, let the testing center know.

Hit the Books

Even if you think you have a solid grasp on a placement test topic, take the time to study. Many college testing centers offer free study guides for their placement exams that you can find online and at the testing center. Use the guide to brush up on terms and key words used in exams that you perhaps forgot. For a math placement exam, for example, take the time to learn and apply terms such as “for,” “difference,” “subtracted,” “less than” and “of.” In addition to study guides, you can find this type of information in workbooks or text books that your teen children or grandchildren use.

Attend a Campus Workshop

Take advantage of any preparatory workshops that a college may offer. The workshops are like classes and focus on different subject areas that you may find on a placement test, like identifying subjects and verbs, using commas, sentence structure, grammar and basic algebra. Some workshops are placement-exam specific and offer tips about preparing for different sections of the test, enhancing your study skills and reducing pre-test jitters. When you attend a workshop, take good notes that you can refer to when you study on your own, and don’t be afraid to ask questions during the session. If you learned a concept reviewed during a workshop differently to when you were in school, ask the teacher if that concept still applies today to avoid confusion.

Take Sample Tests

At the beginning of your studies, take a sample placement test offered by your college to see how you score and learn about the areas that need improving. When you feel confident that you’ve improved in a subject, take a different sample placement exam to see if your score improves. Practice tests let you become familiar and more comfortable with the testing formats and learn how a school may phrase its questions. As you take the practice tests, observe the time limits that the school may use so you can get a feel for how much time you can spend on each question. You can usually find sample tests on a school’s website or in the testing center.

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