Foreign language placement

Foreign Language Placement Testing Guide

In order to receive retroactive credit for foreign language courses you've taken in high school, you must first complete the foreign language placement tests. After receiving your scores, you consult with your advisor about what foreign language course to take at your college. You may have scored well enough on the foreign language placement test to place into an advanced level. After you complete that first foreign language class with a B or better, you could receive retroactive credit for the college classes below your placement level. In other words, you may be granted college credit for foreign language courses up through the first foreign language course that you completed at your college/university.

Purposes and background of the test

Placement into college courses is the sole purpose of this test. Many skills which are taught in the high school language courses are not included in the test. The test is a tool to assist advisors in placing students into the best course in a language sequence. The test is not a measure of everything that is learned in high school language courses.

As a placement instrument, the test has to be easy enough to allow students with only one year of a high school foreign language to answer many questions and yet has to be complex enough to measure the skills of students with four or five years of a language. Scores have to be precise enough to allow placement into five different levels of university coursework: 1st semester, 2nd semester, 3rd semester, 4th semester, or 5th semester.

The test is a multiple-choice format to measure two different types of competence: knowledge of proper language usage and reading comprehension. Test scores are often used in combination with other placement criteria, such as number of years of study, grade received, and when the last language class was taken, to determine actual placement.

Key factors related to placement scores

One of the most important factors related to placement scores is number of years studying the language. Not surprisingly, students’ scores on the placement test are in direct relationship to the number of language courses they took in middle and high school: the more courses taken, the higher the placement. Generally speaking, it appears that three years of a high school foreign language are roughly equivalent to one year (two semesters) of college study.

Another crucial factor is that time away from studying the language appears to have detrimental consequences. Statistics show that students who take a foreign language in their senior year of high school generally place higher than students who do not take it in their senior year, even when both groups have studied the language for the same number of years.

These two factors support the recommendation that students should spend as many years as possible in foreign language courses and that, once begun, their study should not be interrupted until the time when they have decided that no more course work in college will be needed.

Advising Students on Preparing for the Test

As already stated, the best preparation is solid work in as many Foreign Language courses as possible continuing through senior year. Specific preparation beyond course work is not required. For those interested, however, here are some suggestions to help students expand their study beyond the classroom and to maintain their language skills over the summer.

  1. Read Spanish, French or German newspapers, periodicals, and short stories of your choice for enjoyment, for general meaning, and to expand your vocabulary.
  2. Listen to audio and videotape materials, guessing at general meaning and recalling as many specific details as possible. Consider the expressed attitude of all speakers, why they say what they do, and the consequences of their remarks.
  3. Review your mistakes on grammar and vocabulary worksheets and tests from your past foreign language classes, consulting your textbooks to clarify points you do not understand.
  4. As for taking the test itself, be sure you are well-rested the night before and try to remain as relaxed as possible during the test. We intend that the experience be an enjoyable, yet challenging one for you. Remember that all students are not expected to answer all items correctly. Intelligent guessing will most likely help you achieve a higher score.