Placement Exams

Placement Exams

Placement Exams in Mathematics and Chemistry are required for some students and help determine what level of mathematics or chemistry incoming students are prepared to take. Students should review the information in each exam section below to help determine whether they need to take a Placement Exam. Placement exams are offered throughout the summer and during Orientation Week in the fall and spring semesters.

Please note that each placement exam may only be taken once.

To view the Placement Exam schedule, or to register, click here.

Important Notes

  • Calculators are not permitted.
  • Students will receive their Placement Exam scores immediately following the completion of the exams, and are asked to wait for results. Students, however, will not be provided with a corrected exam.   

When to Take a Placement Exam

Students are encouraged to sit for a Placement Exam prior the Postbac Planning Session and meeting with their advisor, as the results of the Placement Exams will be important for discussing a course schedule.

Students who are still not sure whether they need to take a Placement Exam after reviewing the information below should consult with their advisor after attending a Postbac Planning Session.

Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

In some cases, students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations related to administration of examinations, including placement exams. Such accommodations must be specified as well as authorized by the Columbia University Office of Disability Services, based on an assessment of the disability and appropriate documentation. This authorization process can often take a month, once all required documentation is received.

Students with learning disabilities or other disabilities that may warrant an accommodation should contact the Office of Disability Services immediately upon receipt of the GS Acceptance Packet.

Exams Administered by the Office of Disability Services
Students who take a Placement Exam through the Office of Disability Services will receive their scores within 24-48 hours via email.

Mathematics Exams

The Physics and Chemistry Departments at Columbia expect that students enrolling in General Chemistry or Physics have a working knowledge of Calculus, so students cannot enroll in these courses until they have completed, or are prepared to take as a co-requisite, Calculus I. The Math Placement Exam consists of two parts, and helps determine if a student is ready for Calculus or if Pre-Calculus course work is required.

Students are required to take the Mathematics Placement Exam if they:

  • have not taken Calculus I during college.
  • received a B- or lower in Calculus I during college.
  • completed Advanced Placement Calculus in high school, but took no further Calculus coursework in college.

Students are not required to take the Mathematics Placement Exam if they:

  • took Calculus I in the last five years during college and received a B or better.
  • took specific mathematics courses that will transfer to Columbia. Students will need to discuss transfer credits with their advisor during the first advising appointment after the Postbac Planning Session.

Math Part I

Passing Math Part I will place you into Pre-Calculus. You may take Part II only if you pass Part I. Students who pass the Mathematics Exam Part I must take Part II if they would like to enroll in Calculus I.

Timing, Composition, and Scoring

  • 45 minutes
  • 20 multiple-choice problems
  • 16/20 passing score

Topics and Preparation

The following topic are covered on Math Part I. Students should review a high school textbook covering these subjects to review for Math Part I. Calculators are not permitted.

  • Order of Operations
  • Manipulating Fractions
  • Distributive Law
  • Square Root
  • Linear Equations in One Variable
  • Factoring and Multiplying Algebraic Expressions
  • Coordinates and Graphs (two variables)
  • Inequalities
  • Absolute Value
  • Algebraic Fractions
  • Properties of Straight Lines
  • Functions
  • Quadratic Equations

Math Part II

Passing Math Part II will place you into Calculus I. You may take Part II only if you pass Part I. We do not offer placement exams to determine placement in courses higher than Calculus I. Please consult with your academic advisor for additional information on this matter.

Timing, Composition, and Scoring

  • 40 minutes
  • 12 multiple-choice problems
  • 9/12 passing score

Topics and Preparation

The following topics are covered on Math Part II. Students should review a high school textbook covering these subject to review for Math Part II. Calculators are not permitted.

  • Functions
  • Trigonometric Identity
  • Logarithms
  • Graphing Functions
  • Inequalities
  • Distance

Exam Results

  • Students who do not pass the Mathematics Exam Part I must take a course in Basic Mathematics [MATH S0065], which is offered only during the summer session.
  • Students who pass the Mathematics Exam Part I, but not Part II will be required to take College Algebra and Analytic Geometry [MATH W1003], which is offered during the fall, spring and summer sessions.
  • Students who pass both Part I and Part II of the Mathematics Placement Exam can enroll in Calculus I [MATH V1101].

Chemistry Exam

The Chemistry Placement Exam will test basic knowledge of chemistry.

Students are required to take the Chemistry Placement Exam if:

  • the last time they took Chemistry was in high school*
  • they completed Advanced Placement Chemistry in high school, but took no further Chemistry coursework in college.*

*Students are not required to take the Chemistry Placement Exam if they:

  • plan to begin their Chemistry coursework by enrolling in Preparation for College Chemistry [CHEM W0001] or [CHEM S0001]; this course is offered only in the spring and summer terms.
  • completed General Chemistry I with a C or better in college.

Timing, Composition, and Scoring

  • 60 minutes
  • 44 multiple-choice questions.
  • 23/44 passing score.
  • A periodic table is provided, but calculators are not permitted.

Topics and Preparation

The following topics are covered on the Chemistry Placement Exam. Students should review a high school chemistry book to prepare for the exam.

  • Acids and bases
  • Atomic and nuclear structure
  • Balancing chemical equations
  • Chemical bonding and its relation to molecular structure
  • Chemical reactions
  • Chemistry nomenclature
  • Equilibria
  • Gas laws
  • Kinetics
  • Periodic properties of elements
  • Phase changes
  • Stoichometry
  • Thermodynamics

Exam Results

  • Students who pass the Chemistry Placement Exam with a 23 or above may enroll in General Chemistry I [CHEM C1403/CHEM W1403].
  • Students who receive a 20-22 on the Chemistry Placement Exam are encouraged to take Preparation for College Chemistry in the fall [CHEM W0001] or summer [CHEM S0001], as they may have difficulty with General Chemistry I [CHEM C1403/CHEM W1403]. Students should speak with their advisor to determine a plan during their initial advising appointment.
  • Students who receive a 19 or below on the Chemistry Placement Exam will be required to take Preparation for College Chemistry in the fall [CHEM W0001] or summer [CHEM S0001].

Advising Appointments and Course Registration

During the first term of enrollment, advisors complete course registration for students after their initial advising session. Students will discuss their Placement Exam results and arrive at a decision regarding the appropriate course registration.

Advisors will register students for the appropriate courses after their appointment; students will not register themselves for their first semester. Note: Faculty members do not make determinations on course enrollment, and auditing courses is not permitted.