How Hard Is the ACCUPLACER?

How Hard Is the ACCUPLACER?

Did you know over 60% of college students drop out before completing their degree? There are many reasons for such high dropout rates, but the top two factors are lack of financial resources and/or academic preparedness.

You can avoid these two common stumbling blocks with the ACCUPLACER. This placement testing system saves you time, money, and frustration on college coursework.

Is the ACCUPLACER test difficult? How do you overcome its challenges? Our guide provides all the information and resources you need to start planning your test success.

What is the ACCUPLACER Test?

ACCUPLACER is a placement testing system used by high schools, technical schools, and colleges. It’s administered by the College Board, a non-profit higher education company.

College Board works with educational organizations to develop many widely-used testing systems. These include:

  • SAT

  • PSAT

  • SpringBoard

  • Pre-AP

  • AP

  • CLEP

The ACCUPLACER exam finds your current level of academic knowledge and abilities. This helps you avoid wasting money and time on classes you aren’t yet prepared to take, or that you don’t need.

If you score low on the ACCUPLACER math tests, for example, your college may place you in developmental classes first. If you score high, you can skip developmental classes and go right into the advanced coursework.

ACCUPLACER is not intended to punish or penalize students. It’s a supportive tool to pinpoint your academic strengths and weaknesses, so you aren’t set up for failure.

Accurate placement sets you up for short-term and long-term success. Your overall degree path is much more productive (and less expensive) with placement testing.

How Difficult is the ACCUPLACER Exam?

The ACCUPLACER is designed to challenge you. Its goal is to find your exact skill and knowledge levels. A too-easy test won’t accurately reflect your capabilities.

If you’ve ever played video games, you know many will scale their difficulty based on your performance level. As you complete quests and defeat bosses, the next round of quests and bosses becomes more challenging.

The ACCUPLACER exam is similar. Questions become more challenging as you move up in difficulty levels.

Your exam score will reflect what knowledge and skills you’ve mastered. You can increase your placement score through study and preparation, just like grinding in a game.


ACCUPLACER uses Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT). If you’ve never taken this format, you may want to try practice tests so you can acclimate. It’s very different from traditional paper and pencil grade-school tests:

  • No skipping questions

  • No changing previous answers

  • Penalties for guessing

  • Self-paced

  • Faster completion time

  • Performance-scaled

  • No “failing” grade

A CAT testing system continuously adjusts its test level based on your answers. A wrong answer means your next question will be easier, while a right answer increases the difficulty.

This adjustment process finds the upper limit of your knowledge and skills, which results in a more accurate score. The CAT format is used for other important aptitude tests, such as the military’s ASVAB test and the NCLEX exams for nurses.

ACCUPLACER Test Material

There are six main exam sections:

  • Reading

  • Writing

  • Arithmetic

  • Quantitative Reasoning, Algebra, and Statistics (QAS)

  • Advanced Algebra and Functions (AAF)

  • WritePlacer Essay

The test is untimed, so you can take as long as you need on each section. Most students complete it in 1-2 hours.

1. Reading

The Reading test presents passages for you to analyze and summarize. Each passage is between 75-400 words. Questions will test your reading level and reading comprehension abilities.

2. Writing

The Writing test also includes passages, but this time you will correct sentences for grammar, clarity, and organization. The passages are between 300-350 words. This section will demonstrate your written communication knowledge and skills.

3. Arithmetic

The Arithmetic test will ask you to solve equations and complex word problems. This includes fractions, decimals, and percentages as well as whole and equivalent numbers. These questions help determine your basic math skills.

4. Quantitative Reasoning, Algebra, and Statistics

The QAS test similarly includes equations and word problems. However, these questions will use higher-level math abilities like algebraic expressions, probabilities, and linear equations. These questions reveal your current level of math reasoning skills.

5. Advanced Algebra and Functions

The AAF test is for students who require a high level of math knowledge, such as STEM fields. It includes complex math concepts such as quadratics, exponential and logarithmic equations, and trigonometry. This section will prove your advanced math abilities.

6. WritePlacer Essay

The WritePlacer Essay is the one section that’s not computer adaptive. It may also be timed. Instead of answering multiple-choice questions, you write an essay according to the given instructions. This shows that you are capable of completing complex written assignments.

ACCUPLACER Test Material: English as a Second Language

Colleges require high levels of English language proficiency. Many college students have a primary language that’s different from English. And over 5 million grade-school students are English Learners (ELs).

ACCUPLACER offers English placement tests to ensure students can meet language level requirements. This can also help students determine if they should look for colleges that offer ESL and EL support programs, classes, and resources.

There are four main sections to the ESL placement testing:

  • ESL- Listening Use

  • ESL- Listening

  • ESL- Reading Skills

  • ESL- Sentence Meaning

Like the tests, the ESL multiple choice CAT sections are not timed. However, the writing portion may have a set time limit, according to your school’s criteria.

1. ESL- Language Use

The ESL Language Use test includes questions about parts of speech, such as nouns and verbs. You may be asked to fill in blanks with correct words, infer an answer based on context, or combine separate sentences into one. This ensures you know proper English grammar and syntax.

2. ESL- Listening

The ESL Listening test involves listening to audio clips with one or more people speaking. These clips may include informal or formal English. This section demonstrates your ability to understand spoken language in conversations and lectures.

3. ESL- Reading Skills

The ESL Reading Skills test uses short passages (50 words or less) and medium-length passages (51 to 90 words). These questions determine your reading comprehension level, both literal and inferred. It includes elements like vocabulary, literary devices like cause and effect, and skills like summarizing.

4. ESL- Sentence Meaning

The ESL Sentence Meaning test is similar, except goes to a higher level of reading comprehension. This includes particles, prepositions, and idioms. Along with filling in the blanks, you’ll be tested on your ability to choose the correct vocabulary and make accurate comparisons.


The ACCUPLACER has both dynamic testing and scoring. Your score depends on the accuracy and difficulty level of the questions you answered correctly.

Score ranges also depend on the test. The reading, writing, and math tests have five score ranges:

  • 200-236

  • 237-249

  • 250-262

  • 263-275

  • 276-300

These scores are associated with your mastery of skills and knowledge, called Skills Insight. Scores at 236 and below are the lowest, while 276 and above are the highest.

The WritePlacer essay has only one score range between 1-8, with the ESL version from 1-6. One is the lower score range. The essay grade has five different areas:

  • Focus

  • Organization

  • Support and development

  • Sentence structure

  • Mechanical conventions

Your essay score is instantly available like the other sections, because it’s graded by a computer. This also means you will not be marked down for subjective opinions or positions.

The ESL tests are scored from 20-120. Although the College Board does not provide Skills Insight for these sections, 20 is the lower score range.

Colleges have their own criteria for ACCUPLACER scores. A minimum score threshold at one college may require developmental classes at another. Your college admissions will have exact information about their ACCUPLACER score requirements.


Are you ready for college but worried about exam scores? Effective ACCUPLACER test prep can help your placement into 100-level classes. You can also work out strategies to help you overcome test performance barriers, which you’ll need to pass college classes.

Effective test prep includes:

  • Review

  • Study

  • Practice

  • Preparation

You don’t need to spend hundreds on ACCUPLACER prep. There are many free resources to help you get started.

1. Review

ACCUPLACER lesson plans are a great review tool. It always helps to refresh your academic memory, but it’s especially important if you’ve been away from school for a while.

Like CAT testing, lesson plans are dynamic and based on what questions you get right or wrong. This helps you plan your study more effectively.

2. Study

Effective study habits include active learning tools. ACCUPLACER flashcards help you store knowledge in your long-term memory. It also boosts your active memory recall.

3. Practice

Practice tests are a great strategy to increase test performance and reduce test anxiety. ACCUPLACER test practice can also help you devise test-taking strategies for difficult questions. Answering higher-level questions correctly is integral to your ACCUPLACER test score.

4. Prepare

Your brain can become “foggy” and have trouble with concentration and/or memory recall through a lack of adequate sleep and nutrition. Take advantage of test tips and guides that recommend the best practices for test preparation.

Take Control of Your College Degree Path Today!

The ACCUPLACER is a placement test that shows how ready you are for college coursework. You can prepare for the ACCUPLACER exam by studying and test practice, so you can go right into higher-level classes.

Our resource center has all the premium tools you need to get started, plus blog articles full of testing tips, tricks, and guides! Create a free account and start your path to college success.

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