Online College Preparation Tools

In the history course I taught this summer at a local community college, a student I will call Carmen struggled all semester. She had emigrated from the Dominican Republic when she was twelve, and did not attend school in the United States for very long before she dropped out at age fifteen. Carmen worked at a low-paying job, married, had children, and now, at age forty, wanted to get a college degree to earn more money. She had the mechanics of reading in English mastered and so could read the words of the textbook, but the meanings of the words remained elusive to her all semester. She was unable to write a basic sentence without countless grammatical errors, and I generally could not tell what her essays were actually about. She often misunderstood the assignments and completed them incorrectly. The result: Carmen failed the course.

Carmen’s problem is, sadly, not unusual. With the start of the traditional school year upon us, I can’t help but worry about all the students who will enter college underprepared and lacking the basic skills they need to perform at the college level and complete their degrees. Every semester, I see the same thing in my classes: Students of all ages, from all economic backgrounds, of different races and ethnicities, who cannot read well, cannot write basic paragraphs, and who lack even the most elementary math skills. Without these basic skills, the money they have borrowed in student loans will be in vain, because they will fail out of college, fail to earn a degree, and still have to pay back the loans. They will be in even worse financial shape than they were when they enrolled in college.

Female Student at Work Most colleges, both traditional and online, offer introductory or pre-college courses to those who do not yet have the skills they need to succeed in a college-level course. They are usually offered to students who do not perform well on the College Placement exams offered by many colleges. But there are many ways that a student considering enrollment in a college course can improve their basic skills even before they enroll and take a placement exam. Below are some useful resources for students who may be considering taking the next step in their lives and enrolling in college:

General Skills and Placement Tests

  • State of California: Not only does California provide its students with a special online program for college preparation, it also provides open access to basic review courses to anyone regardless of state residency status, in such subjects as Biology, US History, and Advanced Placement courses.
  • is a website with review exams on basic facts about politics, history, and English grammar. The tests are scored online so that you can see how much you know and determine your strengths and weaknesses.
  • College Placement Test is a similar site that gives students a preview and practice of the kind of placement exams that your college may require you to take.
  • Howard Community College Placement Tests is another basic skills website, this time with actual placement tests offered by a community college, so that you can get an idea of what to expect from a placement exam.
  • offers basic tests such as the Wonderlic, which tell you what your basic skill level is, and provides sample questions from professional exams for those who would like to become accountants, nurses, medical assistants, and many more. For some disciplines, they also offer Flash cards that you can download and study from.

English Usage and Grammar Tests

  • provides a short, free online English grammar test that is of great use for foreign students or ESL students who want to improve their English grammar. While British English is often different from American English, the test itself only asks questions that would be appropriate for both versions of English (I scored 100%, and I’m not British!). The test includes questions on such tricky issues as prepositions, vocabulary, and verb tenses.
  • offers free English tests, including tutorials on such subjects as verb tenses, gerunds, and prepositions, as well as weekly lessons that you can follow for as many weeks as you like.
  • Kaplan International, which is affiliated with Kaplan University, also offers a free English test to help you determine what your skill level is and where you need to brush up on your skills.

Math Skills

  • provides examples of math problems to help you prepare for College Placement Test. Do not be put off by the pictures of young kids on this site, because it offers material at many levels.
  • has SAT practice tests that will help you review basic math skills. The SAT exam, which many students take to get into college, measures your skill level.
  • Sylvan Math Prep: The Sylvan company offers tutoring, test preparation and other learning activities for a fee, but they also have a free version available online that even has videos so that you can see how to work out a math problem.

While many of these websites offer materials that are self-guided, and students may be uncomfortable with this at first, it is also good practice for college work, which is often completed independently. This is especially true for online courses, for which all work is completed by the student on their own time, without the direct guidance of a traditional classroom teacher. The tests on these websites will also be useful to those already enrolled in college who wish to improve their grades. If your papers are downgraded due to persistent grammar or vocabulary problems, a few online review activities might be just the thing to bring your work up to the next level! Please submit the sites you have found useful here!