Are college math placement tests hard?
August 10, 2009 8:40 PM   Subscribe

How hard are math placement tests for community colleges?

I am a college graduate who needs to take a basic statistics course as a prerequisite for a graduate program as I never took it in college.
I think I will be forced by the community college where I can take the class to take a math placement test. I haven't had math since 11th grade many years ago and I'm nervous they won't let me take this one class.
Will it be hard for me to test into statistics after this period of time? I know algebra and remember some geometry, but I forgot trig and the harder algebra. I answered some questions on Compass, the company that college uses for tests.
Note: Statistics at community college is level 1410 and is a little lower on the number scale than trig and pre-calculus.
I am trying to get an exemption as I already have college degree, but I didn't take any math classes.
posted by greatalleycat to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Worst case talk to the professor of the class. A lot of times they can sign you into the class and override whatever pre-requisite requirements there may be that might prevent you from registering for it. You can even email them.
posted by rainygrl716 at 8:51 PM on August 10, 2009

Best answer: You can find a very extensive review and set of practice questions for everything on the COMPASS here (COMPASS REVIEW) I've never taken a COMPASS test, but refer people to take it every day...what I've heard is that the math section of the test is absolutely something you can study for and do well on with a typical high school math background.
posted by mjcon at 8:53 PM on August 10, 2009

Find out if you can be exempted based on your SAT/ACT math score.

I took a math placement test for community college once, though it turns out I should have been exempt because my math scores on the SAT were more than sufficiently high (grumble).
posted by contessa at 8:56 PM on August 10, 2009

Contrariwise, there's a legitimate reason why they want to do such a test. To learn math at a particular level you really need to know what comes before it. If you don't, you'll have a lot of trouble.

What good would it do you to bypass the system and get into this course, if indeed you don't have the background for it, and flunk out?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:03 PM on August 10, 2009

General statistics courses may reference at an outer extreme some calculus if it is a prerequisite, but it won't be the first thing in the course and they won't cover it without covering the necessary calculus as well. A general statistics course usually has more to do with logic, memorization and application - meaning the brain part of geometry with the math part of basic algebra. If you can balance your checkbook, calculate a 15% tip, and otherwise flip coins and roll dice you should do reasonably well.

This is not to say that you will be able to skate through the course - just that the material should consist more of stretching your brain and less with showing you completely novel concepts.

If there were one college-level math course which I can say will alter your mind and thinking for the better for real world application, it is statistics. Don't be afraid of it, embrace it, devour it, and try to enjoy it - believe me it is a very very worthwhile interruption in your plans.

Full disclosure: I've never taken a basic statistics course, only the math minor ones. I did once flip through a friend's book, and I have attended multiple seminars which were geared towards explaining concepts at people with a general statistics level of knowledge.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:06 PM on August 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I took the test a few months ago after not having any math since 11th grade (I'm 23 now) and you can definitely study for it and pass...and I say that as someone who has never been particularly "good" at math. Search "COMPASS review" on Google and you'll find lots of community college review packets, etc. online. Very helpful.
posted by krisken at 9:50 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got a C- in Algebra II 16 years ago and never touched math again...

...until I tested into stats on the community college COMPASS test, not once but twice, without prior preparation, in 2005 and 2008. I aced stats in December and graduated with my glorious 3.5-year-2-year degree.

Good luck.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:02 PM on August 10, 2009

Stats and trig don't intersect much, either. You'll need to be able to figure out the slope of a line at some point in the later chapters of the usual elementary college stats book, though.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:04 PM on August 10, 2009

I'll be teaching that stat course in a couple of weeks. I've also taught remedial courses for those who failed their placement exams.

Stat courses are difficult because:
1) Few people who take them do so because they're interested in the subject.
2) There's a lot of material to learn in a short period of time which means it must be learned somewhat superficially.

They are ultimately easy because they end up mainly as a bunch of recipes to be followed along with being able to recognize when to use them as opposed to something requiring deep understanding. Very little of the mathematics you'd need to pass a placement exam is actually used much during the course.

If I were you, I'd get a hold of the text(s) and the syllabus as soon as possible and see how far you can get through it on your own. I'd also try hard to avoid the placement exam by talking to anyone in a position to allow that.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:17 AM on August 11, 2009

I teach at a 4-year college where students routinely fail the math placement exams even if they have had an ok high school math background. (Then they complain and try to wheedle their way into the courses anyway.)

They fail because they don't bother to brush up at all. The tests are not harder than the SAT math section, which all these kids took, but they took it 8 months prior when it was all fresh in their mind.

So: brush up. Remind yourself how to multiply and divide fractions. How the rules for exponents work. Remind yourself of a few of the basic algebra rules, the trig ratios, the rules for triangles (side-angle-side and the like). Work an hour or two worth of practice problems.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:50 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

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