Prepare for Placement Tests

Reading Placement Tests are designed to assist in determining if students are prepared to read most college-level texts. Students that self-identify as native speakers of English will take the ACCUPLACER® Next Generation Reading Comprehension test. Students that self-identify as English as a second language speakers will take the ACCUPLACER® ESL Sentence Meaning and ESL Reading Comprehension tests.

Neither version is more difficult that the other. The goal is to match the individual with the class that best meets their needs.

These tests are untimed, so take your time to read questions, answer choices and the passage carefully. Most testers complete the test in 45 minutes to an hour.

The English Department recommends that students take some time to prepare for tests. It is not necessary to study for days, but a review should be helpful. Some general advice …

  • Think about how ideas connect.
  •  Transition words can be helpful. Are you getting an example? Is it explaining the effect or cause? Does the reading idea change and talk about a new or different idea?
  • Remember to focus on the information in the reading when selecting your answer.
  • If English is the first language you spoke or read as a young child, you will take the ACCUPLACER® Next Generation test. This is a multiple-choice exam. Below are resources to assist you in preparing for the test.
  • If English is your second language, the exam has two parts. Both parts are multiple-choice and there is no time limit. You will need to choose the best answer.
    • The ESL reading comprehension test will ask you to find main ideas, supporting details, and make conclusions/inferences.
    • The ESL sentence meaning test will read ask questions about the meaning of sentences. You may be asked about words, phrases or the meaning of an idea based on grammar or sentence structures.
    • Before you take the test, it is helpful to review. There are three resources below. There are also practice tests & resources on the Oakton website in the Library section.
      • Access the Library link
      • Then choose Careers
      • Then the LearningExpress Library

  • The Writing Skills Assessment Test (WSAT) is a 75-minute timed test of your writing ability.
  • Each essay prompt follows a similar format: you will write a response to only one topic of the two choices provided.
  • Each topic presents a controversial issue with two or more views. You are asked to take a position and make an argument for that position. Your response must be an essay.
  • You can type your response in Microsoft Word, and print it when you finish. You have access to spell-check and grammar check, as well as the cut-and-paste feature.
  • You have the option to write by hand.

Writing a timed essay is different than writing at home. The following strategies work well for most students taking a timed test like the WSAT:

  • Familiarize yourself with the Microsoft Word software before the test. Make sure you know how to start new paragraphs, copy-and-paste, use spell-check and  grammar check.
  • Of the two topics, pick the one that’s more interesting to you, or the issue that you have more to say about.
  • Read the topic questions two to three times carefully. Make sure your essay addresses the question being asked. For instance, if you are asked whether the legal drinking age should be lowered from age 21 to age 18, don’t write about drinking being unhealthy.
  • Allow yourself about 10 minutes at the beginning of the process for pre-writing (free writing, listing, clustering, outlining, or whatever works best for you). Make these notes in your test booklet. Think about what position you will take and list your reasons. Or list pros and cons of one side. Use this time to create as many ideas as possible. It is likely that not all your ideas will make it into the final version.
  • After you pre-write, the simplest formula is to take one clear position on the issue, and give two to four reasons that support your position.
  • Put a thesis statement near the start of the essay that sums up your position and introduces your reasons. For instance: “I believe we should keep the legal drinking age at 21 because it will prevent car accidents, reduce unintended pregnancies, and lower the violent crime rate.”
  • Each reason should be discussed in more detail as a paragraph. Begin the paragraph with a topic sentence that sums up the reason. In each paragraph, explain your reason. You might explain your own experiences or observations, or give examples from current events.
  • Leave yourself about 10 or 20 minutes at the end of the 75 minutes to revise and proofread. When you revise, you might re-organize, delete unnecessary ideas, or add ideas to support your opinions. When you proofread, correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Use the grammar-check and spell-check features in Microsoft Word, but don’t depend on it to do all the work; it can overlook errors or make bad suggestions.
  • Many students spend too much time writing long introductions and conclusions, or trying to write the longest possible essay. The quality of the writing is more important than the number of words.
  • During the exam, watch the clock and adjust your pace as needed. Use the full 75 minutes.
  • Stay relaxed on the day of the test. Get a good sleep, eat a good meal, get some exercise, etc. Take brief breaks during the test to breathe and relax. Do what you need to reduce stress.
What are the WSAT readers looking for?

Readers are looking to see whether you're ready to begin a college-level writing class. There’s no specific formula, but successful essays usually have:

  • a clear, thoughtful argument.
  • well-supported opinions.
  • several paragraphs.
  • good organization.
  • been proofread for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Here’s what readers are not looking for:
  • Picking the “right” answer.
  • Using big words.
  • Providing statistics.
  • Having detailed knowledge of the topic.
  • Picking the one “correct” structure for the essay (compare/contrast, five-paragraph essay, etc.)

Finally, readers understand that it’s hard to write with a 75-minute time-limit, so they don’t expect your essay to be perfect.

Now you can practice. Set a timer to 75 minutes and respond to one of these prompts: