How to Prepare for a Math Placement Test

Remember: A calculator is not a substitute for the underlying knowledge.
••• calculator image by Szymon Apanowicz from

Many colleges utilize math placement tests to determine what courses incoming students require. While tests differ from school to school, they generally include questions addressing general math competency, various levels of algebra and trigonometry. Begin your test preparations as much in advance as possible to allow yourself time to improve your skills without feeling rushed.

    Download the math placement test practice guide from your college. If the school does not offer a guide, download one from another college or an independent website. You can also find math placement test practice guides at some bookstores.

    Go through the practice guides. Set a timer to the length of time specified in the practice test. Answer as many questions as you can. Use any extra time to go back through and check your answers. When the time is up, check your answers against those provided in the guide. Note which topics and types of problems provided the biggest challenge for you and dedicate extra study time to those areas.

    Work on basic math skills. Review basic principles such as order of operations. Make sure you are comfortable doing basic math without using your calculator. This will help with your speed during the timed test.

    Look over your calculator and ensure that you understand its functions. You should be familiar with the calculator before taking the placement test so you don’t waste time figuring out the accessory during the test. Also, remember that the calculator provides a tool to make things faster, but does not replace knowledge of the math itself.

    Review elementary, intermediate and advanced algebra. Find study materials for each level. Consider a pre-calculus study guide for more advanced problems. Algebra comprises most of a placement test, with questions progressing from easy to hard during the test.

    Find and review trigonometry study materials. While the subject generally appears in fewer questions on placement exams, you can add to your overall score if you are familiar with the math.

    Practice math problems. There is no substitution for taking multiple practice tests, as the practice will best prepare you. Also review general test-taking strategies, including how to eliminate answers for multiple choice questions. Research the format of the exam and find out whether incorrect guesses will take points off of your overall score or simply not add points.

    Things You'll Need

    • Study guides
    • Calculator
    • Pencil
    • Paper

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