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Why Students Do Not Prepare for Math Placement Exams: Student Perspectives

By: Maggie P. Fay, Susan Bickerstaff & Michelle Hodara

Abstract

Why Students Do Not Prepare for Math Placement Exams: Student Perspectives

Drawn from surveys completed by 122 students enrolled in developmental math at four community colleges and from seven student focus groups with a total of 34 developmental math students at those same colleges, this research brief illuminates student experiences with and perspectives on the math assessment and placement process. Findings suggest that many students who go on to enroll in developmental math are unlikely to prepare for the math placement exam, although most students know ahead of time that they are required to take the exam and many colleges make test preparation materials available. Lack of preparation may undermine students’ exam performance and negatively affect the accuracy of their placement.

We identify four interconnected reasons why students tend to not prepare for the exam: (1) misperceptions about the stakes of the assessment and placement process, (2) lack of knowledge about preparation materials, (3) misunderstandings about why and how to prepare for a college placement exam, and (4) a deep lack of math confidence. The brief concludes with recommendations for colleges.