About Placement Exams
To make sure you choose courses that are appropriate for your skill level, you will take placement exams before you register for classes. The Math, Writing, and Foreign Language Placement Exams are offered through OWL (Online Web-Based Learning) and must be taken before your orientation session.
You will be automatically enrolled for placement exams the next business day after your enrollment fee has been processed by the University.
- After that, you will be able to log in using your UMass "NetID" and password.
- Enrollment is updated every night except for weekends; and students will be able to take the exam the following business day. You can check your SPIRE Admissions Center page to confirm that your enrollment fee has been processed. The page will say "Received - Thank you" after your fee has been processed.
Transfer students please consult your email for a message from Admissions with the subject "UMass Amherst: Preliminary Transfer Credit Evaluation" which indicates if a placement exam is required.
Math Placement Exam
You must take the online Math Placement Exam before attending your orientation session. All first-year students and many transfer students take this exam because math courses are required for a large majority of majors at the university. Math is particularly important for students entering the sciences, computer science, engineering, business, and mathematics. Even if your major has no relation to math, some General Education courses have a prerequisite based on this exam, and all students need to fulfill the Basic Math Skills (R1) and the Analytical Reasoning (R2) requirements.
The Math Placement Exam covers the basics of algebra, coordinate geometry, and trigonometry. There are 40 questions broken into two tests, 30 for test Part A and 10 for test Part B. OWL will allow you 60 minutes for each part, but the test usually takes much less time than this (normally one hour or less). You may use a calculator. The exam will ensure that you are placed in the right courses for your skills, which is essential for your success. Please take the placement exam seriously as it will determine placement into your first math class as well as many science classes. You can only take the math placement test once, so give it your best effort.
First year students admitted for the fall semester must take the Math Placement Exam before you can sign up for RAP. You will need to allow 48 hours between when you take the placement exam and when you register for RAP.
Writing Placement Exam
First-year students must also take an essay exam before attending orientation. This online essay exam is used to determine placement in first-year writing courses. All new students must complete the Writing Placement Exam unless you:
- Received a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement Language and Composition Test (NOT the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Test);
- Took a writing course at another institution that the University has accepted for credit to fulfill the English Writing 112 (CW) requirement; OR
- Took the SAT before March 2016 and scored a 1460 or higher on the combined critical reading and writing sections. See the Writing Program website for more information.
Students who have taken the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Test must still take the Writing Placement Exam. Learn more about the Advanced Placement Exams in English on the College Board website.
The Writing Placement Exam involves reading three articles, writing an essay (1,000 words maximum) in response to them, and then writing a short reflection. You will have a choice between two essay topics. OWL allows you up to 72 hours to submit your essay from the time you begin the exam.
Foreign Language Placement Exams
Students who have studied French, German, Latin, or Spanish for two or more years and will continue with the same language at UMass Amherst, must take the Foreign Language Placement Exam online prior to orientation. If you are seeking a BA in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, or seeking a BA in the College of Natural Sciences you will have a foreign language requirement and you should take the Foreign Language Placement Exam. Students in a BA program in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences are encouraged to take the exam as foreign language coursework may apply to requirements within your major. Exploratory Track students are also urged to take the test if they have studied French, German, Latin, or Spanish.
The available foreign languages are listed once you log into OWL. Each test has a different number of questions. You will be allowed 60 minutes to complete the test. These tests are for placement only. No credits or exemptions will be awarded.
Additional information on Foreign Language requirements and placement exams for other languages will be reviewed during your orientation or transfer registration session.
Placement Exam Directions
The exams you are about to take use an online system called OWL (Online Web-Based Learning). You will receive one point for each question you answer correctly, and there is no penalty for incorrect answers. No books or other outside assistance are allowed - the work should be entirely your own.
There are no practice tests. Placement exams may only be taken ONCE. Please make sure you read the directions carefully and set aside enough time for each exam before you begin.
Logging on to OWL
- Confirm that your enrollment fee has been processed. You will have access to the placement exams the next business day after your enrollment fee is processed.
- To open the OWL login window, click here.
- Enter your NetID & Password. Then click Log in.
- Carefully read the information on the Welcome to OWL page, and press Continue.
- On the next page, verify that your name is correct; you do not need to enter any other information. If correct, press Save.
- On the Course Home page, read the Announcements and then click Assignment List on the left.
- On the next page, click the exam you want to take. This will take you to the exam itself.
Taking the Exam
Some general instructions:
- To navigate between questions, use the Next Item and Previous Item buttons located in the OWL navigation bar on the left. Also, as you work on the exam you will see a list of questions at the top of the page. You can click on the icon for a particular question to jump directly to that question.
- Once you have completed an exam, click Assignment List in the navigation bar on the left. This will take you back to the exam list page where you may enter or reenter an exam as long as you have time remaining.
Notes about Math Placement:
- The two parts of the exam are listed as separate items on the Assignment List page.
- You should start with Part A first and then advance to Part B. Note that as long as the time has not expired for a particular part you can switch back and forth between parts. Remember, you have one hour to complete each part from the time you begin that part.
- Remember, the test results will determine your placement in math and some sciences. Do your best!
Instructions for starting an exam and answering questions:
1. Click on the link for the test you want to take on the Assignment List page.
2. Read the TIMED assignment warning, and click OK. Once you click OK there is NOTHING that you can do to stop the clock.
3. Click on Info Page 1 (first item in the Content/Question column of the table) and read the directions.
4. Click Next Item in the left OWL navigation bar to advance to the first question.
5. Read the question and enter your answer by either checking the correct answer or filling in the blank.
6. Press Submit Answer. A pencil icon will appear next to the question number at the top of the page to show that the question has been answered.
7. If you need to change the answer to a question that you've already submitted, just return to the question, enter your new answer, and then press Resubmit Answer. Only your last submission counts.
Remember: Use the Next Item or Previous Item links on the left to navigate between questions or click on the icon next to the question number in the list at the top of the page. You can switch back and forth between exams by returning to the Assignment List page.
When You Are Finished
The Writing Placement Exam will be scored manually. You will receive an email notifying you of your writing placement.
If you work on the exam until time expires, your grade on the Math or Foreign Language exam will appear automatically on the Assignment List page. If the time has not expired, but you are sure that you are done working, here's how you can view your grade:
1. From the Assignment List page, click on the exam whose grade you want. Or from a question page within an exam whose grade you want, click on the "I've finished the exam." link at the bottom of the page.
2. On the Unit Menu page, press the View Score button.
3. Under the heading, Final Submission for Assignment read the notes to make sure this is what you want to do.
4. Press the Submit Assignment and View Score button.
5. Read the warning box and press OK if you are sure that you want to forfeit any remaining time, or press Cancel if you wish to return to the exam.
6. Your Score is shown in the top left of the Unit Menu page and on the Assignment List page.
7. Repeat for other exams if desired.
8. Write down your score for each exam.