Going back to college as an adult – Less Beaten by placement tests

scantron test form

So you’ve decided to go back to school

As I already covered in my post about getting through admissions to go back to school, you don’t have to take no for an answer. Bureaucracies exist to deter the under-motivated. When I was told my transcripts weren’t good enough, I dug and found an appeal process. Most systems work this way. The thing to remember is that often, the person on the other side of the counter (literally or figuratively) isn’t the policy maker. They can, however, be your best friend or your worst enemy. Typically they may not have authority to grant you what you want, but they almost always have enough process and policy to halt you if you don’t treat them nicely. A great set of tools for dealing with these people can be found in the book I intend to review, Never Split the Difference. This book has some great skills and this little tangent covers an ongoing topic in my life, using skills from one area to solve problems in another. I even used these skills recently when negotiating down overage charges on my AT&T bill.

Placement Tests… Ugh!

Back to the subject at hand, college admissions, and placement tests. I never took SATs or ACTs in my earlier junior college career. I didn’t have any math scores with which to place me. I had touched on pre-calculus but had nothing on my transcripts and I had to take a placement test. This particular test was the ALEKS math placement exam. It had been 20 years since I had taken any formal math courses. I use a decent amount of math at work and the overall concepts were there but specific skills were rusty. I knew math was required for my major and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in classes that would quickly become remedial for me. So I read about the exam. I was in luck, this one wasn’t proctored!

Cheating… Sort of

From reading, I knew I got to take the test at least twice. I also wanted to put in the least effort possible as this was just a blocking point in my schooling, I wasn’t going to learn anything from it. So, I fired up the test with no studying. I ran into plenty of familar problems that I was able to solve, no problem. Then I ran into something familiar that I had forgotten how to do… factoring. Factoring was far from the highest math I had completed in high school so I knew I didn’t want to get those problems wrong and start over there. How did I attack this problem? I cheated… sort of. Using google, I found an online calculator that covered factoring (side note, I used this same site to help me with my pre-calculus work). I used the calculator to solve the problems that I knew would come back to me quickly.

So, technically I was cheating, however, if I ended up placing in math I couldn’t complete, I’d only be hurting myself. So, by bending the rules, I landed myself qualified for the first course I needed for my major, beginning calculus. With my patented minimum effort, I was able to get a passing C in that course, and it included proctored exams. That leads me to one other suggestion. Always put in a lot of effort at the start of the course. Those will be your easiest points and pad your grade for when things get harder or if other challenges arrive. I knew I didn’t need calculus in my career and I did understand the concepts, but there were a lot of little rules to memorize. By monitoring my score closely I was able to determine that all I needed was a 50% on my final to score my passing C. I got a 54%. As its the highest math in my major, I was fine with a C. That allows me to spend more time on courses that are more directly applicable to my work.

So, how about you, what tricks have you used to cut through and sidestep red tape in your schooling or career?

Image Credits: Brian Cantoni