10 Ways to Boost Your Score on the ACCUPLACER
Following are ten ways to help improve your performance on the ACCUPLACER community college placement test. Some are specific to the test, and others are just a good idea no matter what type of performance you’re trying to enhance. Good luck!
Know which ACCUPLACER sections your school requires
The ACCUPLACER includes five separate sections: Reading, Writing, and three separate Math tests. But not every community college requires all five tests.
For example, not all community colleges require its students to take the ACCUPLACER Advanced Algebra and Functions Test (AAF). That’s the most difficult of the three Math tests!
Before you spend a moment worrying about (or studying for!) a test that you may not have to take, be sure to find out exactly which sections of the ACCUPLACER your school will require you to take.
Take care of yourself the night before and the day of the ACCUPLACER exam
This goes for any situation when you want to turn in a good performance: Take care of yourself! This includes getting enough sleep the night before (no big parties!), and perhaps doing something you enjoy that relaxes you.
Additionally, don’t make any sudden changes to your usual habits the day of your ACCUPLACER exam. For example, eat the same type of breakfast you typically eat. If you usually start the day with coffee, do so on your test day. Conversely, if you don’t usually drink coffee, don’t pick your test day to experiment with it!
Pick your best time of day to take the test
If you’re familiar with the SAT or ACT, you probably know that these tests are administered only on a preset number of very specific times and days throughout the year — usually, on Saturdays starting at around 8:00 a.m.
In contrast, the ACCUPLACER is administered directly by your community college rather than by a third party. This usually makes the process a lot more informal and friendly. For example, many community colleges allow you to take the ACCUPLACER anytime during administrative hours — say, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You may not even have to make an appointment — just show up ready to sit in front of a computer for a few hours. (Obviously, you’ll want to call your school and find out the specific details.)
If your community college offers this level of flexibility, take advantage of it. If you’re a morning person, show up early; if not, plan to arrive in the early afternoon. In either case, be sure to arrive early enough that the office isn’t getting ready to close!
Consider taking the ACCUPLACER in two or more sessions
Here’s an important tidbit: You don’t have to take the entire ACCUPLACER in one sitting. Each section of the ACCUPLACER stands discretely on its own. Furthermore, your score on each section is independent of your other scores.
So, consider taking your ACCUPLACER exam on several separate days. In any case, start with what you believe will be the easiest test. Most of my students find this to be the Writing Test. But if your native language isn’t English, or if you’re confident with basic math, you may well find the Math Test to be the best place to start.
As you start the test, breathe! and keep breathing
It’s natural to feel nervous as you start taking a test. You may find, for example, that your heartbeat increases, your hands shake, and your mind races.
These effects are all physical manifestations of the fight-or-flight response, your body’s response to anxiety. Adrenalin and other hormones pump into your bloodstream to give you immediate energy to, say, face down a wolf or run away from a bear.
Unfortunately, adrenalin isn’t terribly helpful as you take the ACCUPLACER. To counter it, simply focus on your breathing for a moment. (The test will wait.) Notice your breath and then slightly deepen it — not so much as to hyperventilate. Do this for two or, at most, three breaths — say, for 20 seconds. Then resume the test.
If you notice your nervousness returning, take another 20 seconds and repeat this exercise. You may want to do this half a dozen times during the course of the first section of the test. After that, the worst of your anxiety should begin to settle down.
Take your time
Unlike most other tests, the ACCUPLACER isn’t a timed test. Each section includes 20 to 25 questions, which you can answer at your own pace.
Take the time that you need to do your best. If you’re taking the Reading Test, read slowly and carefully, and allow the information to seep in. On the Writing Test, take the time to read the entire passage, and then for each question focus on the sentences you’re being asked about. And on each of the Math sections, take the time to proceed slowly and check your work before entering your final answer.
Check in with yourself before you start each new section
As you finish each section of the ACCUPLACER, take a few moments to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Strong? Comfortable? Discouraged? Tired? Hungry?
You don’t have to take the entire test in just one sitting. Each section stands on its own. If you’re not in good shape as you finish a section, feel free to tell the nice person behind the desk who’s giving you the test that you’d like to stop for the day.
Keep the ACCUPLACER in perspective
The ACCUPLACER is just a test, not a firing squad. And by far, the ACCUPLACER is not even the most important test you’ll ever take.
Of course, you’d love to ace the ACCUPLACER and kick off community college with courses that give you college credit. But if the specter of the test has you worried enough to affect your performance, put the importance of the ACCUPLACER in perspective.
If you have test anxiety, any test can be scary. Remind yourself as you take the ACCUPLACER that no matter what score you get, you’re not in any danger of being thrown out of school or having your financial aid package revoked. It’s just not that kind of a test.
The very worst outcome is that you’ll have to attend a few remedial, no-credit courses to get up to speed so that you’re ready to do well in your later college courses.
Sometimes, two is a charm!
More good news: Most community colleges allow you to take the ACCUPLACER twice, and in some cases possibly more. Before you take the test, ask to see what your school’s policy is.
Assuming your school permits two tries, you may want to take the first round without too much preparation. If you kept up with your work in high school, you may well pass some or even all of the ACCUPLACER sections without extra work.
When you’ve received your scores for the first round, find out what your community college considers a passing grade on each section. This number varies from one school to the next, so be sure to ask. Knowing how many more points you need to pass each section of the ACCUPLACER gives you a lot of information about how much studying you need to do, and in which areas.
Repeat after me: “I’m doing my best.”
Your life will contain wonders you haven’t even dreamed of yet.
When you’re standing at the altar on your wedding day, or holding your first child in your arms, or climbing Mount Everest, or completing a marathon, or taking a call from your new boss telling you about your promotion when any of these things happen for you, you won’t find yourself saying, “I could be happy right now, if only I’d done better on my ACCUPLACER exam!”
Here’s the thing. Just do your best. And keep telling yourself, “I’m doing my best.”
That’s all you can do.