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The CUNY (City University of New York) Placement Tests

The CUNY (City University of New York) Placement Tests

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The CUNY Placement Tests are an important element of admission to undergraduate programs at the colleges and schools of the City University of New York.

How well a student scores on the tests will decide whether they:

  • Are accepted onto their chosen courses
  • Must enter a remedial class (adding an extra year to their course of study)
  • Can reduce the length of their course due to a high score

To avoid the added expense of an additional year in education and to enable a student to plan ahead, it is essential to prepare well in advance for the CUNY placement tests.

City University of New York Placement Tests
City University of New York Placement Tests

City University of New York Colleges and Schools

The City University of New York incorporates 25 campuses in total.

These include:

  • 11 senior colleges: Baruch College, Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island, The City College of New York, Hunter College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lehman College, Medgar Evers College, New York City College of Technology, Queens College, York College.

  • Seven community colleges: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College, Guttman Community College, Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College.

  • Seven graduate, honors and professional schools: Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies, Macaulay Honors College.

What Is Being Assessed?

The CUNY placement tests examine a student’s skills in three areas to ensure sufficient proficiency in each area to satisfy entry requirements for the courses of their choice:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math

The CUNY placement tests will decide whether the student will gain entry onto a course, enter an initial remedial year before beginning their course or reduce the overall length of their course of study.

CUNY Placement Tests Question Formats and Type

As mentioned above, there are three distinct parts to the CUNY placement tests, we will examine each in detail below:


The reading element of the CUNY assessment tests is computer-based and untimed. The questions are multiple-choice and are designed to test the student’s reading comprehension skills.

The test is made up of several written passages drawn from a variety of sources, including fiction, the humanities and the sciences.

Each passage is followed by a series of questions. The answers to the questions can all be found in the related passage.

Example Questions

Examples of these questions concerning a passage regarding Mary Shelley and her novel Frankenstein might be:

Example Question

1. Mary’s time at the villa close to Lake Geneva was marked by ______ weather.

a) sunny
b) foggy
c) warm
d) pleasant
e) wet

Example Question

2. The conversation turned to the experiments of Erasmus Darwin in his report on the creation of ______ through the process of spontaneous generation.

a) oxygen
b) water
c) life
d) sound
e) death


The writing CUNY assessment test includes two tasks:

  • First, the student is asked to read an essay
  • Second, the student must write an essay in response to and in keeping with the related instructions.

The student will be expected to identify the key ideas of the given essay, and then express and discuss these key ideas in a well-presented response essay.

This section has a time limit of 90 minutes. This is the only section of the CUNY placement test that is timed.


The math section of the CUNY assessment test is computer-based and untimed. The questions are multiple-choice and cover the following areas:

  • Numerical skills/pre-algebra
  • Algebra
  • College algebra
  • Trigonometry

Students will not necessarily be assessed in all four sections. Only those who do well in elementary algebra will be further assessed in college algebra, trigonometry and advanced math.

If a student does not achieve a satisfactory score in elementary algebra, they may be asked to take a Numerical Skills/Pre-Algebra assessment.

Example Questions

Here are examples of the types of questions a student may be asked to answer in the math assessment test.

For algebra:

Example Question

1. Solve the following equation for A:

4A/3 = 16 + 8A

a) 0
b) –2.4
c) –1.3
d) 2.4
e) 1.3

For basic math:

Example Question

2. Which fraction is equal to 7/8?

a) 20/30
b) 35/40
c) 14/24
d) 21/28
e) 14/32

CUNY Placement Tests
CUNY Placement Tests

How Are the Tests Scored?

The way that the CUNY assessment tests are scored depends on the subject.

Rather than being a cumulative score, each section is treated individually.


To pass the reading CUNY assessment test, a score of 70 or higher is required.

The score reflects the number of questions that the student has answered correctly.


To pass the writing CUNY assessment test, a score of 56 or higher is required.

The response essay will be scored in the following areas:

  • Structure
  • Critical response
  • Sentence structure and choice of vocabulary
  • How the student developed their ideas
  • Grammar and mechanics

This test is scored by two separate faculty raters, using a scoring rubric.

Each rater scores the essay on a range of one to six points for each of the above sections.

A scoring rubric sets several expectations for the performance levels needed to achieve a particular score.

So, for example, to score a ‘six’ in critical response, a student would be expected to demonstrate that they fully understand the main ideas of the essay they have read by expressing those ideas and providing examples from their own experience and knowledge to support their response.

In comparison, a ‘one’ in critical response would be assigned to a student who failed to show their understanding of the main ideas in the essay and provided a limited response.


As with the reading test, a student’s score on the math assessment test reflects the number of questions that they answered correctly.

The score needed to pass varies depending on which college or school the student wishes to attend. The student should find out exactly what score they need to achieve to gain access to the course of their choice.

How to Book CUNY Placement Tests

There is no need for students to book the CUNY placement tests themselves. The Office of Testing at the college or school that the student has applied to will automatically send out a testing appointment date and details by email and mail.

If the student cannot attend on this date, the Office of Testing will reschedule their appointment for the next available testing date. This will usually be within four weeks of the original date.

For a student who does not live locally, it may be possible to request a specific testing date.

What to Expect on the Day

By the date of the CUNY placement tests, the student should have already familiarized themselves with the subjects they will be tested on and the format of the questions they will face.

Knowing what will happen on the day of the tests can also be helpful:

Where Do The CUNY Placement Tests Take Place?

The location of the assessment tests will be included in the information sent to the student by the Office of Testing, but generally, the tests will be taken on the campus of the college or school that the student has applied to.

What to Take to the Test

Details of what the student should take to the test will be included in the information they receive from the Office of Testing, but they are likely to include:

  • The test ticket supplied by the Office of Testing
  • Photo ID; for example, a passport or driving license
  • A non-electronic dictionary, where approved

What Is Not Allowed in the Testing Room?

Personal belongings will generally not be allowed in the testing room. The student will be told where they can be left on the day. This information may also be included in the details sent to them by the Office of Testing.

Electronic devices, such as cellular phones, must be turned off and stored.

Food and drink cannot be taken into the test. This includes chewing gum.

When to Arrive

The student should arrive early for their testing appointment, preferably around 15 minutes before the beginning of the assessment tests.

If the student arrives earlier than this, they may be asked to wait outside.

It is always recommended that students visit the rest-room before entering the testing room. They will not be allowed to visit the rest-room during the test session.

How to Do Well on The CUNY Placement Tests

As with any exam, the easiest way to guarantee success in the CUNY placement tests is for the student to fully prepare beforehand by familiarizing themselves with the format of the assessment tests and the subjects they will be tested on.

Step 1. Practice

The best way to prepare is to practice sample test papers and questions. These can be obtained from the website of the college that the student wishes to attend, but also:

Step 2. Watch Your Time

The one section of the assessment test that is timed is the writing question. Use sample essay questions to practice your timing.

Remember, the 90-minute limit is to read the essay as well as plan and write a response essay.

Step 3. Learn From Your Mistakes

Test preparation does not stop with practicing CUNY placement test questions. You should also consider:

  • How well did the student score on those sample questions and what can they learn from their score?

  • What areas does the student excel in, and what other areas demonstrate a weakness in their knowledge?

Once a student knows where their academic weaknesses lie, they can spend more time on those subject areas.

Step 4. Check and Double-Check

Both areas of the assessment test that feature multiple-choice questions are untimed. Students should take their time to read the questions fully and double-check their answers before submitting them.

Remember, this is a computer-based exam and once an answer has been submitted, it cannot be changed.

Check and double-check to avoid silly mistakes.

Final Thoughts

Sitting the CUNY Placement Tests may seem a daunting prospect, but as with any exam, its purpose is to ensure that students can progress in their education.

With the right approach – preparation and practice – students can provide themselves with the best chance possible of success.

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