Mathematics Placement Testing FAQs

What are placement tests?

Your success in the classroom begins with proper preparation. Quality preparation in mathematics, English and other basic academic studies is important for success in college.

Before scheduling your Penn College classes, you will take placement tests to assess your entry-level skills. These tests are very important, the results will be one of several measures used by College officials to determine or advise you on which courses you will take. The testing program assures that the mathematics, English, and other courses that you schedule are appropriate for your current skills. If you need to build basic skills in math, English, or reading, you will be required to take developmental courses.

The purpose of these tests is to determine your readiness for the academic demands of your program of choice. Penn College is determined that you have every opportunity to succeed; therefore, this system has been developed to help you make informed decisions.

How is the math placement test used?

Placement testing in mathematics is required of all entering students at Penn College and is used for advising and for course placement in mathematics. The purpose of math placement testing is to measure a student’s knowledge of various topics in mathematics: arithmetic, pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, and functions and graphs. Your math placement test results are one of several components that determines the level at which you will begin when you schedule mathematics course work at Penn College. Students come to Penn College with a wide range of preparation in mathematics. It is recognized that many students may not have covered all the topics found on the placement test. However, you should do your best on these tests so that the scores accurately reflect your working knowledge of mathematics. This, in turn, allows placement into a math course for which you are prepared and should enable your successful completion of that course.

What tests will I take?

The math placement test consists of three components: 1) Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, 2) Intermediate Algebra, and 3) Functions and Graphs. Every student will begin the placement process by taking two components of the exam. Based on recent (within two years) Math SAT scores or lack of such scores, students will be assigned their specific exam components as follows:

  • Students without Math SAT scores or with Math SAT scores less than 550 will first be administered a 45-minute Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra exam followed by a 30-minute Intermediate Algebra component. Students who perform well on the combined Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra components of the test will be offered the opportunity to take the Functions and Graphs component at a future time.
  • Students with Math SAT scores greater than or equal to 550 will be administered a 30-minute Intermediate Algebra component and a 45-minute Function and Graphs component.
Do I get to use my calculator?

You may use a basic four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, although it’s still possible to solve every question without a calculator. The recommended graphing calculators are TI-83 Plus or TI-84 Plus. All math placement test components can be successfully completed WITHOUT a graphing calculator. Therefore you should be careful NOT to use the graphing calculator or any calculator on every problem possible. If you constantly use the graphing calculator, it will slow you down to the point that you will not be able to finish the test within the allotted time. You should try to do the majority of problems using your knowledge and understanding of the math topics being tested. Calculators will not be provided; you must bring your own calculator.

What constitutes the mathematics placement test process?

The goal of the placement process is to identify the correct initial placement into the mathematics curriculum, so that you can be successful in your college mathematics classes. A committee of mathematics faculty will consider the math placement that is appropriate for you by reviewing a variety of measures, including:

  • scores on your mathematics and reading placement exams;
  • high school math courses you have completed and your level of success in those classes;
  • your SAT and ACT scores, if available;
  • the amount of time that has passed since you completed your last math course;
  • your motivation and attitude, as determined by an affective survey; and
  • your high school rank.

The committee will assign you to one of the following placements:

Placement One

Students have a weak current working knowledge of basic arithmetic. Students will need to complete prerequisite, developmental course(s) before attempting any certificate- or degree-level mathematics course. Typically, students assigned to this placement have experienced difficulty with mathematics throughout their education or have been away from mathematics for an extended period of time.

Placement Two

Students' basic arithmetic skills are adequate, but current working knowledge of elementary algebra, which is required for success in all degree-level mathematics courses, is weak. Students will need to complete prerequisite, developmental course(s) before attempting any degree-level mathematics course. Typically, students assigned to this placement have not taken an algebra course, have experienced difficulty with algebra, or have forgotten algebra concepts because they have not used algebra for a significant length of time.

Placement Three

Students' elementary algebra skills are adequate and current working knowledge of intermediate algebra is sufficient for success in some college math courses, but not adequate for the College Algebra I level and above. Typically, students who receive this placement have taken at least two high school algebra courses, but may have experienced difficulty with those courses or may have forgotten some algebra concepts because they have not used algebra for a significant length of time.

Students in this placement may begin mathematics courses with MTH113, MTH124, MTH151, MTH153, MTH160, or MTH172. If MTH180 is required for your major, you will be required to take MTH006 to prepare for MTH180.

Placement Four or Five

Students' current working knowledge of intermediate algebra is sufficient for beginning college math courses up to and including the College Algebra I level, but not Pre-Calculus and above. Typically, students who are assigned to this placement have experienced success in high school Algebra I and II, may have taken a course(s) beyond the Algebra II level, and have usually scored well on the math portion of the SATs.

Students in these placements may begin mathematics courses with any of the math courses mentioned under Placement 3, plus MTH180.

Placement Six

Students' current working knowledge of algebra is sufficient for all beginning college math courses below the level of Calculus. Typically, students assigned to this placement have experienced success beyond the level of high school Algebra II, may have taken a trigonometry course, and usually have scored very well on the math portion of the SATs.

Students in this placement may begin mathematics courses with any of the courses mentioned under placement 3, 4, or 5, plus MTH190.

Placement Seven

Students' current working knowledge of algebra and trigonometry is very good. Their skills are sufficient for all beginning college math courses including Calculus I. Typically, students assigned this placement have experienced success in high school algebra, trigonometry, and possibly high school calculus. They usually have earned high grades in these courses and have a strong SAT/ACT score in mathematics.

Students in this placement may begin mathematics courses with any math courses in placement 6 plus MTH230 or MTH240.

What does the Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra component measure?

This 58 question, 45-minute test measures your ability to perform basic operations and to solve problems that involve pre-algebra and elementary algebraic skills and concepts. You may use a calculator but it is not necessary for this component of the test. Each question tests one of the following skill areas:

Pre-Algebra portion

  • Word Names for Numbers
  • Basic Operations with Whole Numbers, Fractions and Decimals
  • Order of Operations
  • Converting Between Mixed Numbers and Improper Fractions
  • Simplifying Fractions
  • Equality and Ordering of Fractions
  • Decimal Notation
  • Writing Ratios and Proportions
  • Solving Proportions
  • The Meaning and Notation of a Percent
  • Converting Between Percents, Decimals and Fractions
  • Writing a Percent Statement as a Number Sentence
  • Percent Increase and Decrease
  • Geometry - Perimeter, Area and Volume for Basic Figures
  • Solving Word Problems

Elementary Algebra portion

  • Operations with Integers
  • Operations with Rational Numbers
  • Evaluating Algebraic Expressions
  • Simplifying Algebraic Expressions
  • Solving Elementary Linear Equations
  • Simplifying and Solving Elementary Inequalities
  • Translating Words/Concepts into Equations and Inequalities
  • Ratio and Proportions
  • Elementary Applied Problem Solving
  • Positive and Negative Integer Exponents
  • Absolute Value
  • Elementary Graphs
  • Operations on Polynomials
  • Real Numbers and Their Properties
  • Solving Percent Problems Algebraically
  • Properties of Lines and Slope
  • Evaluating and Solving Formulas
What does the Intermediate Algebra component measure?

This 25 question, 30-minute test measures your ability to perform basic algebraic operations and to solve problems that involve intermediate algebraic skills and geometry concepts. You may use a calculator but it is not necessary for this component of the test. Each question tests one of the following skill areas:

Intermediate Algebra

  • Applied Problem Solving
  • Simplifying Rational Exponents
  • Basic Polynomial Operations and Simplification
  • Solving Systems of Linear Equations
  • Factoring Polynomials
  • Solving Quadratic Equations
  • Basic Rational Expression Operations and Simplification
  • Solving Equations with Rational Expressions
  • Simplifying Radical Expressions
  • Basic Operations with Radical Expressions
  • Using the Quadratic Formula and Discriminant
  • Translating Words/Concepts into Equations and Inequalities
  • Graphs
What does the Functions and Graphs component measure?

This 37 question, 45-minute test measures your ability to perform operations and to solve problems that involve algebraic, trigonometric, exponential and logarithmic functions and graphs. You may use a calculator but it is not necessary for this component of the test. Each question tests one of the following skill areas:

Functions & Graphs

  • Functions: Basic Concepts (such as domain, range, and symmetry)
  • Functions: Graphs
  • Functions: Transformations and Operations Including Composition
  • Functions: Algebraic Modeling and Applications
  • Functions: Polynomials and Rational
  • Complex Numbers
  • Algebraic Applications: Equations and Inequalities
  • Algebraic Systems of Equations
  • Measures of Angles and Right Triangle Trigonometry
  • Trigonometric Functions of Any Angle
  • Graphs of Trigonometric Functions (properties and transformations)
  • Fundamental Trigonometric Identities
  • Trigonometric Equations
  • Trigonometric Applications
  • Law of Sines and Law of Cosines
  • Functions: Exponential (graphs, equations, and applications)
  • Functions: Logarithmic (properties, graphs, equations, and applications)

Why should I take the Functions and Graphs component of the test?

If I do not know how to answer a question, should I guess the answer?

If you have NO KNOWLEDGE of the question, you should leave the answer blank. If you have some knowledge, you may be able to eliminate some choices and intelligently select the correct answer from the remaining choices. It is important that the results accurately reflect the mathematics that you know and can use correctly. This will help ensure your proper math placement for success

Is each component of the test timed?

You will be told the number of questions and the maximum time allowed for each component of the math placement test that you take. Do not spend a long time on any one problem or you will be unable to finish the questions in the allotted time. If you have extra time, you may review prior questions and answers on the current component, and modify your initial answers, as appropriate.

What can I do to prepare for the Math Placement tests?

To do your best, you should refresh your skills and also be well rested before taking the tests. For example, you should review those math skills that may have become rusty since your last mathematics course. Sample tests on the Math Department website are a good resource of review.

If you are currently a high school junior, choosing to take an algebra-based math course your senior year may have a positive impact on how well you perform on the placement test.

You should get a good night's rest and eat a balanced meal before testing. Therefore, if you live a considerable distance from the Williamsport area, you should consider staying in Williamsport the night before the tests.

What if I am transferring courses from other colleges?

If you transfer credits in English, mathematics, or other subjects from other colleges to Penn College, you may be exempt from some or all of our placement tests.

More information

What if I have special testing needs?

If you have a documented physical, psychological or learning disability which may place you at a disadvantage in a group testing situation, you must contact the Disability Services office at least one week prior to the placement test to request accommodations.

For more information, contact Disability Services at 570-326-3761, ext. 7803 [TTY: 570-321-5528], or visit the website at http://www.pct.edu/disabilityservices/services.htm.

What if I don't do well on the placement tests?

Many students remediate their academic weaknesses before beginning regular classes, either through summer school or by working with a qualified private tutor before retesting. If these weaknesses are not remediated before beginning classes at Penn College, then students will be required to complete developmental courses during their first and second semesters.

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