LEAKED: Official Placement Exam Study Guide!

Sitting in a lecture hall full of overenthusiastic pre-medical students, I was firing away at the biology advisors when it came time for questions. It was admitted student day and I felt confident in my knowledge about U of I’s strong academics until a young women in the room asked, “Do you have any advice for the freshman placement exams?”

Suddenly, a rush of anxiety came over me: Placement exams? What placement exams? Does that mean I have to take more standardized tests?

Despite this stressful surprise, I sat attentively, notebook and pen in hand, to document the secrets for placement exam success. Tonya, an IB (integrative biology) advisor, promptly replied “Don’t study.”

The room goes silent.

Okay, nice one Tonya…

After I completed my online placement tests and created my fall class schedule, I realized that Tonya’s minimal advice really worked! So because I’m a placement exam veteran, allow me to save you some time, worry, and especially the eye strain that ensues when attempting to watch the whole Khan Academy chemistry playlist on YouTube. Here are my top five killer tips on how to “study” for your placement exam(s) this year:

  1. Know which placement exam(s) you must take – The placement exam(s) you are required to complete is mainly dependent on which College you are going into, your academic background, and any transferable credit you earned prior to enrolling at Illinois. However, all incoming freshman are required to take the math ALEKS placement exam even if you have earned (or expect to earn) credit from your AP Calculus or IB Math exam. So for example, a biology major may be required to take the MCB (molecular and cellular biology) and math ALEKS placement exams as a student of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. But under the College of Business, a marketing major may only have to take the math ALEKS placement assessment. If you’re unsure about which exams you are required to take contact your advisor or find out here. Also, don’t forget to look up the requirements for your major!
  2.  Know your exam anatomy Knowing the basic components of the exam(s) can put your mind at ease and help you formulate testing strategies. You can’t predict which topics will be covered on your exam(s) but you can be aware of a few things: time constraints, the number of questions that will be asked, if the exam is multiple choice or free response, whether or not you can complete multiple attempts, and cutoff scores. Knowing these superficial details will allow you to come up with some strategies beforehand such as how long you will spend on each question or whether or not to use process of elimination. These details can be found by using this link after entering your Net ID and password!
  3. Create your own placement exam schedule – I get it, senioritis is a real struggle! It especially becomes chronic after receiving your admittance as the symptoms cause you to spend hours watching Netflix, catching up on sleep, and hanging out with friends. But by planning what day(s) and time(s) you will be taking your exam(s), you won’t have to sacrifice your vacation days. I personally designated one week for testing which gave me enough time to complete my tests with minimal burnout. I also scheduled my tests to be completed at least two weeks before my summer registration, which is required by all freshman. It’s also important to make sure that your testing environment is suitable for your concentration. Taking a chemistry placement test on the beach this summer may be relaxing, but would you be able to see your computer screen? How would you connect to Wifi? Another tip to maintain concentration and efficiency is to decide whether you will need scratch paper, a calculator, or water by your side. The use of calculators and scratch paper is specified at the beginning of each placement exam to which you must follow accordingly. Also, keep in mind that each exam attempt must be completed in one sitting!
  4. DON’T STUDY (Seriously) – UIUC places student success as a top priority and you should too! Not studying for your placement exams, like Tonya advised, allows you to have an accurate measure of your high school knowledge in relation to your major. Therefore utilizing knowledge you’ve learned to complete the placement exams helps you choose an appropriate set of courses that are manageable yet challenging. Remember, placement testing is to YOUR benefit.
  5. Do your best and don’t stress! – In order to set yourself up for a great first semester, test honestly and relax. All placement tests forbid the use of supplemental subject matter. This means that test takers are not allowed to use textbooks, notes, cheat sheets, or internet browsers to search and retrieve formulas, answers, definitions etc. Also note that the math ALEKS placement exam does allow you to use a virtual calculator only for specific questions, which is provided within the program. For timed tests, a virtual timer will be displayed for your convenience which you should use to your advantage; take your time and don’t rush. You want to make sure that you are giving the exam(s) your best shot, so don’t let the nerves take control of your test taking!

By completing your placement exam(s) you are solidifying the essence of your Illinois college career: the journey to academic achievement! Although there is no use to studying subject material before the exam(s), there are measures you can take to increase your score such as knowing the logistics of the exam(s) and creating a testing schedule. Scores are released immediately after the exam. However, if you feel that the test does not accurately reflect your knowledge of the subject, make sure to tell your advisor or peer advisor on summer registration day!


Happy new year!





Class of 2022
My major is Molecular and Cellular Biology (more commonly and lovingly known as MCB) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I'm on the pre-med track—I’ve dreamed of becoming a doctor since I could spell the word!

Add comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.