The Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) test is required for students who wish to apply for Title IV federal financial aid but do not possess a United States high-school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED). Official versions of the ATB test are administered and scored by different independent companies, all of which have been approved by the US Department of Education. A separate Ability-to-Benefit ESL test is required for students who do not have a high-school diploma or GED who wish to receive federal financial aid for an ESL program.
Determine Which ATB Test to Take
The DOE maintains a list of approved versions of Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) tests that college financial aid officers can use to determine aid eligibility. Learn which ATB test your school or program prefers by contacting the school's financial aid office. Passing scores are needed to qualify for aid.
Approved Tests and Passing Scores:
- The Combined English Language Skills Assessment (CELSA) requires a score of 97 on both CELSA Form 1 and Form 2 to pass.
- The CPT/ACCUPLACER test requires a 55 in reading comprehension, 60 in sentence skills and 34 in arithmetic to pass.
- The Wonderlic Ability-to-Benefit test (WBST) requires a verbal score of 200 and a quantitative score of 210 to pass. The Spanish WBST requires a verbal score of 200 and a quantitative score of 200.
Previously, schools could also use COMPASS, CPAt, College Board DTLS or DTMS, and ASSET to determine Title IV aid eligibility. That option was eliminated on June 24, 2015, according to the 2017-2018 Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP) Handbook. The DOE continues to accept a GED, or scores on a state-authorized high school equivalency test in lieu of ATB scores.
Locate Test Preparation Resources
Gather study resources that are specific to the ATB test version you will need to take. Free sample ATB tests are frequently available online from educational programs and institutions that use the test to assess candidates' eligibility for financial aid. Sample questions can also be found on the internet.
Search for Study Guides
Inquire at your school's financial aid office about Ability-to-Benefit preparation materials they may have available, either in hard copy or online. Each publisher of the different ATB tests has a study guide specific to their test available such as the Wonderlic ATB study guide.
Take a Diagnostic Test
Complete a full diagnostic test before you begin studying for the actual exam. Do the diagnostic test without any advance preparation so you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Taking a diagnostic test will help focus your study sessions and identify specific areas you need to review.
Maintain a Study Schedule
Establish a study schedule that leaves you ample time to master the test before you sit for the actual exam. Begin preparing for the test at least six months prior to your exam date. Set aside as much time as possible each week to study for the test. For example, you could study for two hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and for four hours total on weekends.
Find a Study Buddy
If you know someone else who will be taking the Ability-to-Benefit test, schedule time to study together in a coffee shop or at the library. If you don't know anyone, post a classified ad to your local Craigslist page or to your school's classifieds website or student activities board that states your goal of finding a study partner.
Take Practice Tests
The ATB test is untimed, but you should set aside about two hours to do a practice test. You can find practice tests in college or university bookstores or at online book retailers such as Amazon. Take a full practice test about once a week in the final four to six weeks before the exam, and every two to three weeks before the big day.
Goody Clairenstein has been a writer since 2004. She has sat on the editorial board of several non-academic journals and writes about creative writing, editing and languages. She has worked in professional publishing and news reporting in print and broadcast journalism. Her poems have appeared in "Small Craft Warnings." Clairenstein earned her Bachelor of Arts in European languages from Skidmore College.