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Understanding The TABE Test

Updated May 24, 2022

Written by the WikiJob Team

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The TABE test is used to assess an individual's ability in skills that are key for their future success. TABE stands for Test of Adult Basic Education and covers many different areas in math, reading and language.

Many schools and colleges that offer associate degrees or certificates will use the TABE test to ensure there is a correlation between their teaching materials and the ability of the students in the class.

Adult learning centers also use the TABE test to see what students already know prior to starting a course, and to give an indication of learning levels at the end.

The TABE test has some similarities with the GED test but is not as challenging, and is used by some as preparation for the GED.

Although the test is a little easier, it is not a good idea to get complacent. Some colleges use the TABE test as a general indicator of ability and therefore it’s important to be prepared for the exam and do your best.

History of the TABE Test

In the early 1960s, CTB (an educational publisher) was tasked with devising a way of monitoring school children in Los Angeles. With children of different abilities scattered throughout the Californian education system, there was a strong need for a diagnostic tool to assist teachers in ensuring children got the level of help they required.

CTB was bought out by McGraw-Hill in 1965 and began the formation of the test we would now identify as TABE. It was released in 1967 and subsequently went through several different formations.

By 1987 the TABE 5&6 was released, partnered with an equivalent Spanish test for adults called the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education (the SABE). The two programs ran side by side for several years.

Version 7&8 arrived in 1995 and expanded the basic test to include other key indicators of educational attainment. This version included sections on math, reading skills, spelling and language. It was also more closely linked to the GED. The new version of the TABE increased accuracy and allowed a greater understanding of an applicant’s ability across a range of subjects.

TABE version 9&10 was released in 2003. It had many of the same core materials as its 1990s predecessor but included an online section. The TABE Online was designed to evaluate basic skill levels in adult learners and was one of the first tests of its kind anywhere in the world. TABE Online was groundbreaking for its day and subsequently spawned a new generation of TABE tests.

TABE version 11&12 was released in 2017 and brought together and simplified many of the different types of learning seen in previous versions. The long and short versions previously available were condensed into a single test, and content was tweaked to allow greater accuracy of student placement within the system overall.

The Format of the TABE Test

The test is likely to take place at the educational establishment that you either attend or want to attend. There are four different versions of the test available and you can pick which one you’d like to take based on your current educational level. You should allow around three hours for the test.

Before you take a TABE test there will be a locator test. This will help you and your instructor determine which level of testing is right for you. The locator test will take around an hour to complete.

There are five levels of testing:

  • Literacy (L)
  • Easy (E)
  • Medium (M)
  • Difficult (D)
  • Advanced (A)

The locator test should be able to give you a broad overview of which of these tests you should take.

You can choose to sit the test at a computer or using a pencil and paper. The Advanced level of testing is only available on computer.

The test can be used to pinpoint your specific knowledge on a given subject, or as a developmental learning tool to show your cumulative range of knowledge across a given set of subjects. Your instructor will know how to use the information that the test provides.

The Types of TABE Test

There are currently four types of TABE test:

  1. TABE 11&12 – This evaluates learning in line with college and career-readiness standards.
  2. TABE-PC – A version of the TABE test that has been computerized.
  3. TABE-Advanced Level – Aimed at students entering higher education.
  4. TABE CLAS-E – Aimed at students whose first language isn’t English.

TABE 11&12

This is the main version of the test that is taken by most students and is considered by educators to be the 'base test'. It comprises of three main subjects – literacy, language and mathematics. All the content on the exam is reflective of real-life situations and things you might encounter in the world of work.

  • The literacy section examines your ability to use reading as a valuable tool in the workplace and examines three key types of literacy – foundational skills, literary texts and informational texts.

  • The language component looks at your ability to use communication skills effectively while at work and in daily life.

  • The mathematics section explores your ability to do basic applied math in real time, specifically estimating quantity and volume, and being able to make basic calculations for time, distance and weight.

While this might sound difficult, remember that the TABE test isn't designed to trick you. It is simply there to help get an understanding of your base level of education.


The TABE-PC is essentially the same test as the TABE 11&12 but has been computerized to make life easier for you and for your teachers. The built-in software ensures that results can be obtained instantly, and your work is scored automatically and sent to your teacher as soon as the test is complete.

The software can make recommendations on how best to guide you educationally over the coming months and give advice on the next level TABE test you should take. Using TABE-PC is a way of ensuring that both you and your instructors are working together efficiently to identify your learning needs.

The TABE-PC also allows you to take the TABE Advanced-Level version of the test. It has some practice exercises and tools that you and your instructors can use to analyze your learning styles. This extra level of analysis is unavailable in the standard written test and may help your teacher to better understand how you learn and adapt to their materials.

The TABE-PC is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to identify your strengths and weaknesses across a range of subjects and get the appropriate assistance at a level that's suitable for you.

There is also an online version called the TABE-Online, which allows an instructor to adjust your test in real time. This means that if you have a specific disability, the test can be altered for your needs. This could mean adjusting the way the test is presented on the screen, pausing the test or even making the test untimed.

TABE-Advanced Level

The TABE Advanced-Level test is ideal for those people who want to take a GED or a qualification at a similar level. The knowledge base matches fairly well with the standard level required for a GED exam and can, therefore, be used as good preparation.

The TABE-Advanced Level will also let your teacher know exactly what help you might need, and in which subjects, before you sit the GED. The test comprises a number of additional subjects on top of what is expected at the TABE 11&12.

There are two essay-based questions for the writing section of the test, alongside 60 multiple-choice questions in math (specifically algebra and geometry) and 35 in both science and social studies. You can opt to sit all these tests together or tackle them separately.

There is also an option to ‘pass’ on any portion of the test where you have demonstrated a high knowledge of the subject matter.


These are a set of assessments that measure proficiency in English in adult learners for whom English is a second language. This version of the TABE test can be used to help transition the non-English-speaking learner into a mainstream education facility or put them on a suitable career path.

It is slightly different to other versions of the TABE and has a slightly different curriculum. It looks at learner proficiency in four main areas:

  1. Reading – How well you understand what you have read and your ability to discern specific words.

  2. Writing – How well you can write to explain concepts to other people, and how well you can form English sentences as well as giving a general overview of your English usage.

  3. Speaking – How well you use language to achieve a given goal, to distribute information to other people and your ability to use English in a social way.

  4. Listening – How well you can attribute meaning to words and pick out important information from the English that you listen to.

All four of these sections will further test your ability to use numbers and basic mathematics. The TABE CLAS-E can provide a reliable guide for where you’re likely to be placed if you go on to take the full TABE 11&12 or the TABE-PC. Currently, the TABE CLAS-E is the only one available in pencil-and-paper format.

TABE Test Scoring

It is important to remember that all the above versions of the TABE test are diagnostic tools and therefore there is no pass or fail mark. As someone taking one of the tests, you are simply trying to score as highly as you can. You don’t lose points for any questions that you don’t answer.

Scoring is either done via a scanning device (for the TABE 11&12) or online (TABE-PC). The number of correct answers is tallied and measured against standard scores.

As mentioned above, the TABE has five separate levels of difficulty (Literacy, Easy, Medium, Difficult and Advanced). How well you’ve done will be determined by how close you are to the average score for your specific level. Different educational institutions will have different expectations for their applicants, and your goal is to be higher than the average at whichever level you test in.

If, for example, you tested in the Easy range and your score was way above the average, that is a very clear indication that you should move on to higher levels. If you go on to take the Medium level test and score just below the average, then you have found your level. More importantly, your educational establishment will know where to place you academically, and you won’t be sharing classes with people who scored highly on Advanced or those who struggled with Literacy.

The grading of the test is determined by the National Council of Teachers of Math, The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association. These groups work together to determine the appropriate grade boundary levels and review this periodically.

How to Prepare for the TABE

Doing your best on any exam means being prepared and getting yourself into the right headspace. There are plenty of online TABE preparation resources available and plenty of study guides and online packages (such as JobTestPrep's) to help you revise.

You can find additional practice papers at:

Once you have signed up to sit a TABE you may be invited to take TABE-Testlets as a form of ‘practice paper’. These are 45 minute short versions of the test and are excellent preparation for those who are going on to sit the full test.

Tips for Success

  • First and foremost, don’t worry – you cannot fail your TABE. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous but don’t let that get in the way of doing your best.

  • Follow the instructions – Make sure you can hear any instructions; if you’re unsure of what to do, ask someone.

  • Manage your time effectively – If you get stuck on a particular question then don’t stop; leave it and come back to it later on in the test. Remember there is a set amount of time for each section, so don’t spend too much time on any one area.

  • Read the question carefully – Make sure that you understand what is being asked of you. We recommend reading each question twice, particularly at the start of the exam where you are likely to be rushing and running on adrenaline.

  • There are no trick questions on a TABE – The exam is not trying to trick you. Don’t be tempted to second-guess your answers.

  • Be sure that you’re marking the exam in the right place – and if you’re circling an answer, do so clearly. If you realize that you’ve been answering a large number of questions in the wrong place, let your examiner know straight away.

  • Use your initiative – If you’re not sure of the answer to a question then you can work intuitively or deductively. If you’re working intuitively, go with your first thought. This is often correct because it comes from the subconscious. If none of the answers are jumping off the page then work deductively. Cross out any answers that you know are wrong and take your best guess.

Final Thoughts

It’s important so we’ll say it again – you cannot fail a TABE. It’s a tool for you and those around you to work out what you already know and what you still have to learn.

If the TABE is doing its job properly, then it should mean that you’re streamed into all the right classes and that your instructors can tailor their work around your learning needs.

This is the smartest diagnostic tool that education practitioners have to ensure that you don’t waste your time sitting in classes that are entirely unsuitable for your learning needs.

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