Everything You Need to Know About the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+)

The Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA+, is a standardized exam with significant similarities to the ACT and the SAT. However, instead of enabling high school students to matriculate to the university of their dreams, the CLA+ will assist college students in landing a top job. The CLA+ is an evolution of the CLA, which was first established in 2002.

This test delves beyond GPA, internships, and extracurricular involvement in order to better measure individuals’ real-world value to employers. It provides students with a “report card” for critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities. The exam can be taken by students during any year of college, from entering freshmen to graduating seniors. Freshmen could use the test to obtain a benchmark of their skillsets, giving themselves a better idea of strengths and weaknesses. Seniors could use the test to better market themselves to employers.

The Council for Aid to Education, a non-profit organization, created the test and offers it to most anyone in higher education, from students graduating from a four-year institution to students who took a series of online courses and have not yet completed their degrees. The test is voluntary and there are already more than 250 colleges and universities that participate in the CLA+.

What is on the test?

The first edition of the CLA+ will be available in the spring of 2014. It is a 90-minute exam with a 1600-point scale (similar to the old SAT). The CLA+ won’t assess subject-area knowledge, but instead test critical thinking, problem-solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, writing, and the ability to critique and develop arguments. Here are 4 ways to improve your problem solving skills that you may find useful.

The test will rely mainly on students completing a “Performance Task” and answering “Selected-Response questions.” Performance tasks provide students with a real-world problem and a set of documents to consider. Students will then write a response to the scenario. Prompts may include, “What is the best way to address this problem?” or “What is the cause of this problem?” For these questions, students must make logical decisions that are supported by the evidence.

Selected-response questions challenge students with a series of multiple-choice questions based on provided documentation (blog posts, debate transcripts, newspaper articles, political speeches, etc.). The questions will assess reasoning skills, critical reading and evaluation skills, and analysis skills [parallel word construction]

Why was the CLA+ created?

The CLA+ is part of a broader movement by companies questioning the value represented by a traditional four-year Bachelor’s degree. Simply completing four years of course work at a university is no longer a guarantee for landing an entry-level job. Many employers have expressed disappointment in how ineffective some colleges have been in preparing students for the global economy.

Oftentimes, employers expect individuals to demonstrate real-world work experience through internships or extra-curricular involvement. Some even require students to complete internships at that company before they are hired. Here is some great information on how to prepare for your first internship that you may find useful. For some students, this is still not sufficient, and they are forced to further prove their worth to employers. Many companies already have their own assessment tests to screen applicants. No matter what the scenario, some companies feel that hiring graduates right out of college with no work experience is a gamble. The Collegiate Learning Assessment provides companies with a standardized tool to screen applicants based on measurements tied to “real-world” problem solving.