Colleges rely on placement exam essays to identify a student’s writing level after high school. Because the test diagnoses areas for improvement in writing skill, the student should not fear that any judgments he makes in the essay are being graded. Though college placement essays are challenging, in the end it is the student who benefits when he is placed in the college English class most suited to his ability.

Spend the full hour you are given to write the essay. Goucher College recommends that such time is necessary to adequately develop your thoughts and present them in error-free text.

Confirm that you understand the question. Pay attention to words such as “evaluate,” “critique” or “present,” which give clues about the kind of response test reviewers are looking for. For example, if the question asks you to “evaluate” responses to a public policy decision, you should not write an essay that predicts whether the decision will produce good results. See “For Essay Questions” on the St. Benedict College-St. John’s University website.

Devote at least 5 minutes to pre-writing. If you don’t have time to outline your essay, at least write a simple list of the topics and points you intend to cover. Pick one or two points you consider strong and focus on supporting those rather than loading up your essay with one point after another, according to Middlesex Community College.

Write a clear, precise thesis statement. Then devote the rest of your essay to supporting it. Buttress your thesis with logical arguments to guarantee a higher score than an essay that tries to prove a point with circular reasoning. For example, support a thesis that the township should reduce the tax rate by arguing that residents are already overtaxed rather than by stating that it is good policy to reduce tax rates.

Engage the reader by varying sentence structure and vocabulary. Avoid writing every sentence with a subject followed by a verb and its direct object. Instead of writing, “The professor was impatient with the class and decided to give it a test,” try a variation such as “Impatient with his class, the professor decided it was time for a test.”

Save at least 5 minutes before time is up to proofread your essay. This can improve your score more than you expect. Correct spelling errors, avoid contractions and never write in the first or second person.


Check the college’s website for sample questions used on past examinations. Some, such as Middlesex County College, give examples of acceptable and poorly written essays that you can use to practice against.

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