What Is the Main Purpose of the ACCUPLACER Exam?

If you are a college student, your school may have asked you to take the ACCUPLACER. This exam assesses your reading, writing, and math skills to determine which courses to take. Sometimes ACCUPLACER helps you earn credit faster as you can skip developmental classes in your best subjects.


ACCUPLACER is an exam developed by the College Board to accurately place you in courses. This organization is known for making the SAT, of which ACCUPLACER has some similarities.

Community colleges typically administer the exam to entry-level students. Still, more can take it: high school graduates, those looking to dual-enroll, transfer students, and international students.

Unlike the SAT, the ACCUPLACER does not determine if the college will offer you a spot. Instead, it is given to enrolled students to place them in classes suited for their abilities. If you score low, you may have to take remedial courses, but you will remain a student.

Do I Have to Take the Test?

If your college uses ACCUPLACER to decide your schedule, you should take the exam. If you do not, you may have to take remedial courses that aren’t challenging enough. By taking it, you will guarantee your placement in classes that suit your knowledge and abilities instead of wasting your time.

Nothing terrible happens if you score low. You will remain enrolled in school; however, you will take different courses.

How Can I Take the ACCUPLACER?

You will need to register for the ACCUPLACER with your school. You may have to set up an account on your own, but the college registers and administers the test. Only colleges can request the ACCUPLACER, so you cannot take this test on your own.

Usually, you take the test at school. If you are off-campus, you may take it at a designated testing location. The exam is all digital.

What Is the Format?

The ACCUPLACER has five total sections:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic
  • Quantitative Reasoning, Algebra, and Statistics (QAS)
  • Advanced Algebra and Functions (AAF)

You do not have to take all of them. Your school will decide which sections you need to take, and they will be administered at once and completed in a single session.

The test is entirely digital, with no time limit for multiple-choice questions. Your school can limit the essay section. Once you have submitted the answer, you cannot change it. You cannot skip questions and come back later because the test is adaptive: your answer to the previous question determines the next.

What Does It Cover?

Below is an overview of the subjects covered by the ACCUPLACER.


You will read from passages and answer comprehension questions. The subtest includes one fictional text and several nonfictions. Also, you will determine the missing word or phrase in sentences. This format tests your knowledge of information and ideas, rhetoric, synthesis, and vocabulary.


The writing portion has you edit an essay, testing your idea expression and English conventions knowledge. It covers development, organization, sentence structure, punctuation, and language use.

You may write the WritePlacer essay. The computer grades you on purpose, focus, organization, development, support, sentence variety and structure, conventions, and critical thinking.

English learners may take the ESL essay, covering sentence meaning, language use, reading, listening, and writing.


The arithmetic test covers basic math skills. It includes whole number, fraction, and decimal operations, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Also, the exam covers percentages, number comparisons, and equivalents. You’ll need to answer real-world examples.


QAS covers rational numbers, ratios, proportions, exponents, expressions, linear equations, graphs, probability, statistics, and basic geometry. Overall, it incorporates pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Statistics, and Geometry.


AAF covers Algebra II, Geometry, and Trigonometry. It features factoring, quadratics, functions, radical and rational equations, polynomials, exponents, logarithms, more complex geometry, and trigonometry.

How Is the ACCUPLACER Scored?

The basic five subtests are scored by a computer on a scale from 200-300, divided into five score bands that indicate where your skills lie. The bands include:

  • 200-236
  • 237-249
  • 250-262
  • 263-275
  • 276-300

The WritePlacer essay is from 1-8 and the ESL essay from 1-6.

No score is considered passing, but your school may require a particular score band for different courses. If you do not meet that band, you may take remedial coursework.

Remember to try your best on this exam. Slacking off may get you a class far too easy for your talents. Consider putting in some time with one of the best ACCUPLACER prep books that we recommend.

Final Thoughts

The main purpose of the ACCUPLACER exam is to determine what coursework you are ready to take in college. It is administered by schools to help decide class schedules and discover if you need to brush up on some foundational knowledge before working towards your degree.

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Michelle Tsou

Contributor at ExamCave. Michelle graduated with a BA in English from Portland State University. She hopes to one day run her own test-prep organization.