Priority Enrollment Program (PEP) at College of San Mateo - Preparing for Placement Tests
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Priority Enrollment Program (PEP)
Preparing for Placement Tests

Placement Tests are designed to measure current skills in English, English as a Second Language (ESL) and mathematics.  The test results are then used to determine the appropriate level of English, ESL and mathematics for each student and the required course to take in each subject.  As a result, it is encouraged and to students advantage to prepare for the test.

Placement Tests are computarized and the results are made available immediately at the conclusion of each test.  Students are required to take the Math Placement Test and the English Placement Test or ESL Placement Test. 
We offer the following tests:

English Placement Test
ACCUPLACER (The College Board)

The English Placement Test is made up of two parts: Sentence Skills and Reading Comprehension.

Within the Sentence Skills questions, students will find two types of sentence correction questions of varying degree of difficulty with different sentence skills being tested.
  • The first type of sentence correction questions require an understanding of sentence structure. These questions will ask to choose the most appropriate word or phrase for an underlined portion of a sentence.
  • The second type is construction shift questions. These questions ask that a sentence be rewritten according to the criteria shown while maintaining essentially the same meaning as the original sentence.
Within the Reading Comprehension questions, students will find two types of reading comprehension questions classfied according to the kind of information processing required.
  • The first type of question consists of a reading passage followed by a question based on the text. Both short and long passages are provided.
  • The second type of question, sentence relationships, presents two sentences followed by a question about the relationship between these two sentences.
English placement test results, for the purpose of course placement and prerequisite skill level assessment do not “expire” and remain valid indefinitely. If, however, a significant amount of time has passed since the English test was completed, the student may select to repeat the placement test to secure an accurate assessment of current skill level.  If a student questions the accuracy of course placement, the English test may be repeated once within a two-year period. English as a Second Language (ESL)
COMPASS (ACT)

Non-native speakers (students for whom English is NOT their first language) should take the English as a Second Language (ESL) Placement Test.  CSM’s ESL faculty are trained specialists, experienced in helping non-native students gain fluency in English, including students who have gone to high school in the U.S. and lived here for many years.  ESL courses cover grammatical issues that non-native speakers should be familiar with.  On the other hand, basic skills English courses do not help non-native speakers gain fluincy in English.  Taking the placement test for native English speakers may place a student in a course that does not address their conversation, reading and writing needs.

The ESL Placement Test is made up of three parts: Listening, Reading and Grammar.

A student may choose to take the native English speakers test if they have ALL of the following:
  • Lived in the U.S. for six years or more
  • Attended high school in the U.S. and taken English courses there in the past three years
  • Speak mostly English with family and friends
  • Feels most comfortable speaking English
ESL placement test results, for the purpose of course placement and prerequisite skill level assessment do not “expire” and remain valid indefinitely. If, however, a significant amount of time has passed since the ESL test was completed, the student may select to repeat the placement test to secure an accurate assessment of current skill level.  If a student questions the accuracy of course placement, the ESL test may be repeated once within a two-year period. Mathematics
COMPASS (ACT)

The Math Placement Test is organized around five principal content domains: numerical skills/prealgebra, algebra, college algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

To ensure variety in the content and complexity of items within each domain, COMPASS includes mathematics items of three general levels of cognitive complexity: basic skills, application, and analysis.
  • A basic skills item can be solved by performing a sequence of basic operations.
  • An application item involves applying sequences of basic operations to novel settings or in complex ways.
  • An analysis item requires students to demonstrate a conceptual understanding of the principles and relationships relevant to particular mathematical operations.
Items in each of the content domains sample extensively from these three cognitive levels. Math placement test results, for the purpose of course placement and prerequisite skill level assessment, are valid for two years only. Math placement test results “expire” after two years from the date completed.  If a student questions the accuracy of course placement, the mathematics test may be repeated once within a two-year period.
What to bring to the testing session?
  • CSM Student Identification Number (G number)
  • Some form of personal identification with a picture (e.g., driver’s license, passport)
Tips for taking Placement Tests
  • Relax! Placement tests are designed to help you succeed in school. Once you identify your academic strengths and weaknesses, you can get the help you need to improve underdeveloped skills before they interfere with your learning.
  • You will be able to concentrate better on the test if you get plenty of rest and eat properly before the test.
  • You should also arrive a few minutes early so you can find the testing area, bathrooms, etc., and have time to gather your thoughts before the test begins.
  • Be sure you understand the directions for each test before that test session begins. Ask questions if you need to.
  • Read each question carefully until you understand what the question is asking. If answering an item requires several steps, be sure you consider them all.
  • Be sure to answer every item. You are not penalized for guessing. Your score will provide more useful placement information if you answer every item, even if you guess.
  • Don't be afraid to change an answer if you believe that your first choice was wrong.
  • If you have a problem or question during the test, raise your hand and the test administrator or proctor will help you. Although they cannot answer test questions for you, they can help you with other types of problems.