About the Mathematics Placement Test

The primary aim of the Math Placement Test (MPT) is to help students determine whether they are ready for college level mathematics and to assist them in selecting first-year courses for which they are best prepared.

Background

In 1984, five (Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, University of Washington, Washington State University, and Western Washington University) of the six Washington State public baccalaureate institutions agreed to eliminate duplicative testing by utilizing a common math placement test for first-year courses. Math faculty from participating institutions worked together to create two tests: the Intermediate Math Placement Test (MPT-I) to place students into precalculus and the Advanced Math Placement Test (MPT-A) to place students into calculus. The tests were specifically aligned with Washington State baccalaureate curricula and corresponding institution-specific placement cutoff scores were developed. With periodic updates and revisions, these tests have been administered since that time.

In 2007, the Washington State legislature mandated 1) modification of the MPT to reflect the newly created College Readiness Mathematics Standards (CRMS), and 2) adoption of a common college readiness cutoff by all public two- and four-year post-secondary institutions. The General Math Placement Test (MPT-G) was created to meet these requirements. As of 2009-2010, all Washington state public post-secondary institutions utilize the same MPT-G college readiness cutoff. However, not all community and technical colleges accept MPT scores for course placement, and Spokane Falls Community College is the only two-year school that routinely administers the MPT for this purpose.

The Academic Placement Testing Program (APTP) administers approximately 11,000 Math Placement Tests annually. Development and governance are provided by the APTP advising board made up of math faculty, advisors, test administrators, and assessment personnel from participating institutions. Day-to-day management is provided by testing staff at the Office of Educational Assessment Testing Center at the University of Washington.

Test Types

Two Math Placement Test types enable accurate assessment of students with varying degrees of academic preparation:

The General Math Placement Test (MPT-G) places students into first year college level mathematics courses. This test is composed of 35 three-alternative multiple-choice items and is intended for students who have less than three or four years of high school math. The MPT-G was developed to determine whether students are ready for first year college math courses; it has been mapped to the College Readiness Mathematics Standards (CRMS) 4-8:

4. Number Sense
5. Geometry
6. Probability/Statistics
7. Algebra
8. Functions

The MPT-G was also developed for students who wish to enroll in precalculus.  It covers the following topics:

 

Absolute Value
Basic Algebraic Operations
Exponents and Roots
Factoring
Functional Notation
Geometry
Graph Interpretation
Inequalities
Linear Graphs and Functions
Proportions
Quadratic Graphs and Functions
Simplifying
Systems of Equations

The Advanced Math Placement Test (MPT-A) places students into calculus. It consists of 30 three-alternative multiple-choice items and is intended for students who have taken at least three or four years of high school math, including a precalculus, calculus, and/or math analysis course.  It covers the following topics:

 

Absolute Value
Basic Algebraic Operations
Exponents and Roots
Factoring
Functional Notation
Geometry
Graph Interpretation
Inequalities
Linear Graphs and Functions
Logarithms and Exponential Functions
Proportions
Quadratic Graphs and Functions
Right Triangle Trigonometry
Simplifying
Systems of Equations

Test Versions

New versions of each test are created periodically to prevent test content from becoming generally known. At any given time, two versions of each test are in use. The 'primary' version is administered to first time test takers, and the 'secondary' version is used for re-takes. When a new version is introduced, the current 'primary' version is retired. The existing 'secondary' version moves to 'primary' position, and the newly created version becomes 'secondary'.

Although MPT test versions have traditionally been identified by letters of the alphabet, these were replaced by numbers starting January 2010 to reduce confusion with type indicators A, I, and G (Advanced, Intermediate, and General). Then-existing versions I and J were converted to 9 and 10, respectively.

MPT Test Scores and Number Tested

Average scores on both the Intermediate and Advanced Math Placement Tests remained fairly constant over the past ten years. The most reliable figures are those from 1997 on, when the number of students tested stabilized at around 6,800 per year for the Intermediate test, and 3,800 for the Advanced test. Prior to that time, changes in test scores may reflect differences in the population tested. In any discussion of MPT scores, it is important to note that these tests are taken primarily by students who have been accepted into one or more of the public baccalaureate institutions. Results are not representative of all students in the state. Students who take the exam tend to be stronger academically than those who don’t, and large changes in the number of students tested may result in changes in the average scores.

In 1994, an ongoing database was created to score, report, and archive Math Placement Tests. As of the close of the 2006, the database contained over 80,000 Intermediate test scores and more than 50,000 Advanced test scores. Based on these data (excluding only those years in which fewer than 100 students were tested using a particular test version), the average score on the ‘primary’ version of the Intermediate test has remained constant at approximately 50% since 1994 (see Figure 1) and the average score on the ‘primary’ version of the Advanced test has remained constant at approximately 60% since 1998 (see Figure 2). Additional detail is provided in Figures 3 through 8.

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Figures 3 and 4 show the number of students who took each of the different versions of the Intermediate and Advanced tests, respectively between 1994 and 2006.

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Figures 5 and 6 show the average raw test scores for each of the two tests over the same years. Although new versions are written to be as similar (parallel) as possible to previous versions in terms of content and difficulty, the total number of items on the test was decreased in 1998 because several items were converted to story problems that take longer for students to complete. Version E was shorter than Version D (35 items vs. 45 items, respectively), and average scores on Version E were correspondingly lower than those on Version D.

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Figures 7 and 8 show test score averages after raw scores have been converted to percentage scores to correct for differences in test length. As these graphs show, the average score for the ‘primary’ version of the Intermediate test has remained constant over the years at approximately 50% correct, while the average score for the ‘primary’ version of the Advanced test has remained constant over the years at approximately 60% correct. Both tests show a slight increase in scores for the ‘secondary’ (retest) version, reflecting the practice effect attributable to students having been previously tested.

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