The TABE Test
Updated 23 June 2021
The TABE test is frequently used to assess an individual’s ability in math, reading and English language.
The acronym ‘TABE’ stands for Test of Adult Basic Education.
The test is mostly used by teachers in the following ways:
- To ensure that their teaching level is in line with the abilities of their students.
- To find out what students know before starting a course.
- To have a benchmark by which to judge students’ progression once a course has finished.
- To pinpoint the level of knowledge in a specific area.
The test is also used as a diagnostic tool by employers that wish to determine skill levels when hiring, promoting or implementing training programs.
There are different versions of the standard test – one for individuals whose first language is not English, a computerized version and one for those entering higher education.
The original TABE test, which was produced in the 1960s, has gone through a total of four revisions.
Everyone who is going to sit the TABE test will sit a Locator test first, which is designed to indicate which level of the test they should take.
The amount of different versions of this test and the fact it is a tool for assessing abilities for very specific purposes – rather than a standardized test – means that there is no set pass mark.
Student performance is interpreted by the individual organization or company receiving the results.
History of the TABE Test
The first version of the TABE test was produced by McGraw-Hill after it bought out educational publisher CTB.
CTB had already been working on a diagnostic test that could monitor students of differing abilities and provide teachers with a much clearer view of the level of help required.
McGraw-Hill developed CTB’s existing work further to come up with the first TABE test in 1967.
Since its release in 1967, the test has been updated and changed. In 1987, the TABE was re-released as TABE5&6 and ran alongside the Spanish version, SABE.
In 1995, a third version was released that had been updated to provide organizations with a better understanding of students’ abilities. The TABE7&8 included sections on math, spelling, language and reading.
The 2003 version, TABE9&10 was very similar to TABE7&8. There were no major changes aside from an online addition.
TABEOnline was a significant milestone in TABE testing; considered ground-breaking at the time, the online test was the catalyst for the launch of a whole new set of TABE tests.
Organizations now use the TABE11&12, which was released in 2017. This latest version of the TABE test has a greater focus on the accuracy of student placement in the overall system.
What Is the Cost of the TABE Test?
In most cases, the employer or organization that has asked you to take the test will cover the cost. It is rare to have to pay the fee yourself.
However, if you do have to foot the bill, the cost varies between institutions but is usually between $15 and $25.
Which TABE Test?
The current TABE tests available are:
- TABE 11&12
- TABE-Advanced Level
- TABE CLAS-E
TABE 11&12 is the base test, and the other three have a more specific audience.
TABE-PC is a computerized version of the standard TABE test. The benefit of the digital version is that results are instant and are sent through to whoever has enrolled you straight away.
There is a range of other useful features included with TABE-PC, including:
- Advice on which level of the TABE test you should take next
- Practical exercises for you to work through outside of the test to better understand your learning style
- Suggestions for the level of teaching needed to aid your development
You can also take the TABE-Advanced Level via this software.
TABE-Online is an online version of TABE-PC.
This version allows an instructor to take control of your test in real time. Therefore, if you are dyslexic, for example, and need more time to read through the questions, this can be factored in and the test can be paused to allow more time (or even be completely untimed).
If you have very poor eyesight, the layout could be adjusted in this online version to make it easier for you to navigate.
TABE-Advanced Level is only available on a computer. It includes more subjects than the standard TABE 11&12 and is designed for students who are entering higher education.
This test is very similar to the General Educational Development test (GED), and many students use the TABE-Advanced to prepare for this exam.
TABE CLAS-E is for students whose first language is not English. The test is not structured in the same way as the other versions and instead consists of a series of assessments.
These assessments measure proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening.
This version can give a good indication of your level in relation to where you would sit in the TABE11&12.
Understanding the TABE Levels
Students can choose which TABE test to take depending on their needs and ability. However, if your college or school has managed your entry to the test, they may wish to guide you on which version will suit you best.
Even if you are taking the same TABE test as the person next to you, you may not be taking it at the same level.
At the start of every TABE test, students must take a Locator test to establish which level of the main test they should be put on.
The different levels of the TABE test are:
- L – Literacy
- E – Easy
- M – Medium
- D – Difficult
- A – Advanced
Your locator test results could mean that you will take a different level of test for each section (reading, math or language).
Format of the TABE Tests
You shouldn’t have to travel far to take your TABE test – it is usually held at the institution you attend or that has instructed you to take the test.
On the day, you should allow around three hours for the test.
TABE11&12 is split into three sections; math, reading, and language. All of the questions are situational, focusing on real-life situations and problems you might come across at work or college.
TABE Test Reading Section focuses on life and work-related situations, assessing abilities in a range of skills that a mature individual may require for such situations – like word meaning and critical thinking.
TABE Test Math Section focuses on common adult-life tasks that require basic math. Questions might relate to estimations or calculations of time, quantities, distance, etc.
TABE Test Language Section focuses on the communication skills needed to be able to communicate at work and in general life.
This version also measures literacy via foundational skills, informational texts and literary texts.
Each section includes around 40 questions. You will have 75 minutes to complete the math section, 120 minutes for the reading section and 60 minutes for the Language section.
You can skip questions and come back to them if you still have time.
TABE-PC is popular with instructors because the results are instant. This test and the online version have the same content as the TABE11&12.
The TABE-Advanced Level is a step up from the TABE11&12 and tests the student in two other subjects – science and social studies. The Science and the Social Studies sections both have 35 multiple-choice questions.
For this test, the writing section includes a further two essay questions, and the math section includes an additional 60 multiple-choice questions in algebra and geometry.
The TABE CLAS-E for non-English speakers does not follow the same curriculum or format as the TABE11&12.
The reading, writing, speaking and listening sections all integrate basic math questions within them – so there isn’t a designated math section but the student does have to demonstrate basic math skills.
TABE Test Sample Questions
Reading Example Question
Going on vacation is part of life for Americans. What began as a luxury only enjoyed by those with dollars of disposable income has become commonplace for many American families. Some seek sun, others seek snow; for some, it’s the location that’s the attraction. Ostentatious cities like New York or Barcelona draw in millions of tourists every year, most of whom are there to soak up the atmosphere. For some individuals, a slower pace of life is desired, and they head to resorts like the Maldives or Bali.
The term ‘ostentatious’ implies that the author:
a) Thinks New York and Barcelona are great destinations
b) Considers New York and Barcelona to be flamboyant
c) Doesn’t think New York and Barcelona are deserving of visitors
d) Believes New York and Barcelona are too quiet
Answer: The answer is b).
This question is testing your understanding of the word 'ostentatious'; in fact, it is also testing your understanding of the word 'flamboyant', because you have to know what both words mean to choose the right option.
Language Example Question
Decide whether the bold part of the below sentence is correct or whether it needs to be revised by choosing an option below.
For boats in typically colder geographic regions, it is particularly important to have an emergency generator.
a) For boats in typically colder geographic regions b) For Captains of boats in typically colder geographic regions c) For boats in typically cold geographic regions d) For Captains in typically colder geographic regions
Answer: The answer is c).
Instead of 'colder', you would use 'cooler', and that’s not a choice, so the answer must contain the word cold. Although an emergency generator would undoubtedly benefit the captain of a boat, the sentence is focusing on a part of the boat that is to be backed-up because the vessel itself is in the cold, so the answer is c).
Math Example Question
Jemma chooses the premium model phone with the most minutes. She has a 20% off voucher to use. How much does she pay for the phone?
Answer: The answer is c).
This question is assessing how competent you are at interpreting a table of data. You must first identify which of the two premium models offers the most minutes; the answer is Premium model 2, priced at $800.
You must then take 20% off that $800, which is done by working out 800 x 20 = 16,000 and dividing it by 100 (the answer is 160). You then take that $160 from the $800 to give you $640.
How Are the TABE Tests Scored?
The first thing to note is that this is not an exam that you pass or fail. This is an assessment of your ability and a way of supporting your learning needs. Different institutions will have different levels of expectation.
If you take the digital TABE-PC test, your results will be fed back to your instructor online. If you take the test using a pen and paper, the test will be put through a scanner to get the results.
Your score is heavily governed by which level of test you take and the average score for that level.
The aim is to be higher than the average score; too far above the average and you should probably be taking a higher level of test, and too far below average indicates you should perhaps be taking a lower-level test.
Your score is often a starting point for a longer process to establish exactly where your learning level lies.
For example, if you take the medium test and score way above average, and then take the difficult test and score just below average, it gives the instructor a good idea of your level.
Key Tips for Success
Before Test Day
Once you are booked in to take a TABE test, you will be able to access TABE-Testlets – 45-minute practice tests.
Make sure you do your TABE test prep; practice as much as you can to get used to the format of the test, familiarize yourself with the style of questions and brush up on the basics, like:
- Understanding and organizing graphic information
- Number sense
- Applied math
- Paragraph construction
- Use of language
Make notes of your weaker areas and spend extra time focusing on these in practice sessions.
Practice effective time management so that you do not spend too long on questions.
Check with the institution what other items you need to bring – pen/pencils/a calculator.
What personal items can you bring and do they have a place to store these outside of the examination room?
Look after your health for optimum cognitive function. Make sure you are well rested and have eaten a proper meal both before practice sessions and on the test day.
On Test Day
Read the questions carefully - There are no trick questions but thoroughly understanding them is key. Some questions may be worded to ask you to choose the answer that does not fit, rather than the answers that do.
Don’t spend too much time on any one question; if you’re struggling, move on – you can always come back to it later if you have time.
If you are uncertain about the correct answer then try the process of elimination
If taking the paper test make sure you are marking your answers in the correct place and be sure to notify the examiner if you have made an error
Bring a current photo ID with you to the test
Make sure you can hear instructions in the test room and understand what you need to do. If you are unsure, raise your hand and ask.
Work intuitively; if you’re not sure what the answer is it’s often a good idea to go with your gut feeling.
The crucial thing to remember with any TABE test is that you are not being tested to get a job or get into a prestigious school. You are taking the test so that you can receive the most tailored support and get the very best out of your learning.
Teachers use this test to ensure that their teaching materials are at the right level for those they are teaching.
Once you have taken the TABE test you can rest assured that you will never again share a class with those who have a drastically different ability level to you and make you feel either held back or out of your depth.
By taking the TABE test you give yourself the best possible chance of progressing in, and most importantly of all, enjoying your educational journey.