New Student Placement & Enrollment

The UW Math Placement Test

COVID-19 Updates to Placement Testing

Testing and Evaluation Services has developed online placement tests. Information on taking your placement test(s) before SOAR can be found on the SOAR website.

How Placement Is Determined

All incoming first-year (and some transfer) students are required to take the UW math placement test. Information on the placement test and an overview of our placement algorithm can be found here.

The only exception to math placement is course credit (more on this below). Students must adhere to their placement test scores for enrollment in math coursework except in cases of course credit or retakes.

Courses Available Via the Placement Test

The courses that students can place into span a number of areas, levels, etc. Students attending SOAR can and should have conversations with their academic advisors regarding appropriate math courses to enroll in based on their areas of interest.

Below is a brief overview of some of our early-sequence math courses based on the placement test, as well as an early-sequence “math flowchart”:

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

MATH 96: Preparatory Algebra

MATH 96 is a remedial-level math course that is intended to prepare students for further math courses or, in some cases, QR-A coursework. Some students may or may not need to take MATH 96 depending on their particular placement, so conversations with their academic advisor is important to determine whether the course is necessary or recommended.

MATH 141: Quantitative Reasoning and Problem Solving

MATH 141 is a terminal course in that it does not lead to further math coursework. It is not a prerequisite to any math course (including precalculus), but it is an option for students that are looking to satisfy their QR-A requirement and don’t intend on taking further mathematics. Due to the nature of the course and student placement, students should connect with their advisor before choosing this course.

MATH 112, 113, 114: Precalculus Courses

  • MATH 112: Algebra
  • MATH 113: Trigonometry
  • MATH 114: A semester long class in precalculus (think MATH 112 + MATH 113 = MATH 114)

MATH 171, 211, 221: First-Semester Calculus Courses

  • MATH 211: Calculus (without trigonometry)
  • MATH 221: Calculus and Analytic Geometry I
  • MATH 171/217: A two-semester sequence which combines Calculus I and “just in time” review of precalculus.
    • MATH 171 is only offered in the fall; MATH 217 is only offered in the spring.
    • Students must pass both courses in order to be awarded credit for the equivalent of MATH 114 and MATH 221, but MATH 171 does not equal MATH 114, nor does MATH 217 equal MATH 221.
    • MATH 171 alone does not qualify a student for any math outside of MATH 217.
      • If a student takes MATH 171 and does not take MATH 217, they must take the prerequisite coursework for MATH 221 (or other course). No exceptions will be made!
    • More information on the MATH 171/217 sequence can be found here.

NOTE: MATH 211 and 221 are not the same course and, in many cases, MATH 211 cannot be used as a prerequisite for many courses that require MATH 221. MATH 211 is accepted by most programs in the Wisconsin School of Business, but it is not accepted by many programs outside of the Wisconsin School of Business. Students should make sure to converse with their academic advisor regarding which course–MATH 211 or 221–is most appropriate based on their goals.

Math Flowchart

The Placement Test & Course Selection

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Do I need to take the UW math placement test?

All incoming freshmen are required to take the UW math placement test.

Transfer students are informed which placement test(s) they are required to take via email. More information on placement testing for SOAR students can be found on the SOAR website.

How do I sign up to take the placement test? When should I take it?

The SOAR website has information on how to sign up for the placement test and when to take it.

If you attend your SOAR date without having taken the placement test by the specified date, you may not be able to enroll in math courses until you’ve completed the test and received your scores.

How do I view my placement test scores?

Testing and Evaluation Services should have notified you regarding when you can expect to see your scores. To access your placement test scores, please see this page for directions.

What math courses do my scores make me eligible to take?

More information on placement test results can be found here.

My placement test scores are missing, even though I took them by the deadline for SOAR. Who should I contact to get them posted?

You should fill out the Missing Placement Test Scores report form on the SOAR website, and then someone will reach out to you regarding getting the scores posted.

I don't think my placement level is appropriate for me based on my math experience. Can I retake the placement test?

Retaking the placement test is an option if a student thinks their current scores do not accurately represent their knowledge of the material. Except in the case of transfer credit, there is no exception to math course placement.

Please see our information on retaking for more details.

Can I enroll in a course above my placement level?

In general, we strictly enforce prerequisites on all of our math courses, so students are expected to satisfy the prerequisites or place into a course before enrolling in subsequent courses.

Students are not permitted to enroll in courses “above” their math placement. The only exception to math placement is course credit (more on this below).

Can I enroll in a course below my placement level?

Students are welcome to enroll in courses “below” their placement, though we try to discourage it, as the placement test is a good indicator of proper math placement. That said, should you decide to enroll below your current placement level, please send an email to placement@math.wisc.edu to ask for help with enrollment if you’re not able to do so on your own.

I placed into MATH 96, and not into the MATH 96 or 141 placement level. What does that mean?

MATH 96 is a remedial-level math course that some students must complete in order to graduate from UW-Madison, and other students must complete if they intend to take subsequent math courses that require college-level algebra. The requirement to take MATH 96 is based on placement test scores on the UW math placement test and is intended to ensure that you have adequate preparation for subsequent mathematics or Quantitative Reasoning A (QRA) courses at UW-Madison. If you need to take MATH 96, the expecation is that you will do so in your first semester. You are required to complete MATH 96 within your first 30 credits.

If you are required to take MATH 96 you will see a notation regarding “math remediation” on the top of your DARS report. This means you are required to take MATH 96 before you are eligible to enroll in any other mathematics course and any course that satisfies the QRA requirement for all UW-Madison students (including courses that satisfy this requirement outside of the Math Department).

If your placement test scores give you an option to take MATH 96 or MATH 141, you will see “MATH 96 or MATH 141” on your placement test results. You should work with your academic advisor to understand which of these two courses, if any, is best for you in your particular situation. If you need to take precalculus (i.e., MATH 112 and 113, or 114), then MATH 96 is where you should start. If your intended major does not require any precalculus or beyond, you can take any of the other courses that satisfy QRA (if needed), including MATH 141.

If you think your scores on the UW math placement test do not accurately reflect your skills, you can retake the math placement test. See here for more information. If your scores on the retake are higher, you may no longer be required to complete MATH 96. Retaking the math placement test as soon as possible will help ensure that you are in the appropriate courses in your first semester and will help us ensure that you are on track to graduate on time.

Note that students that place into MATH 96 should have a full conversation with their academic advisor to determine which courses or actions are most appropriate based on the student’s areas of interest. A student that places into MATH 96 may not need to take it depending on other factors.

Should I choose MATH 96 or 141?

If there is even the slightest possibility that you may need to enroll in precalculus (e.g., MATH 112 or 114) at some point in the future then MATH 96 is the course you should take.

MATH 141 is a terminal, QR-A math course that does not lead to enrollment into higher-level math classes, and its completion does not imply preparedness to move on with our precalculus coursework. However, if you are very confident that you just need a QR-A course, MATH 141 is one option.

Please check in with your advisor to determine which option would be best for you; there are other QR-A courses outside of MATH 141 as well!

Should I pick precalculus (MATH 112 and/or 113, or 114) and MATH 221; or MATH 171 and MATH 217?

It should be noted that either pathway is equally effective, though which course a student should more heavily consider is based on their goals.

We recommend MATH 171 to students who might benefit from immediate calculus exposure (such as engineering or other technical majors, like physics), or have seen calculus in a previous course. If a student enrolls in MATH 171, the assumption is that they will complete MATH 217 in the spring, since it is a fall/spring sequence.

Students not in the previous populations may instead consider the appropriate precalculus course(s) based on their course history and placement (i.e., MATH 112 and/or 113, or 114).

Again, students have the option to enroll in whichever sequence they’d like, though which one they pick may be affected by their academic goals.

We maintain a Precalculus vs. MATH 171 page that gives some more in-depth information on the courses.

Should I pick MATH 211 or 221?

Depending on academic goals, students should work with their advisors to carefully consider whether MATH 211 or 221 is most appropriate for them.

MATH 221 is the most commonly taken calculus course at UW-Madison, and is accepted as a prerequisite for MATH 222, which then leads to the rest of the mathematics curriculum. On the other hand, MATH 211 is primarily taken by Business majors, and is only a prerequisite for MATH 213, which is then a terminal course with respect to the mathematics curriculum. That is, students cannot take the MATH 211/213 course sequence and then continue into the “main” calculus sequence. For this reason, students should take MATH 221 if there is even the slightest chance they will require or want further mathematics courses. Students who take MATH 211 and change their mind later will be required to go back to MATH 221.

Even most Wisconsin School of Business non-direct admits should heavily consider MATH 221 if given the option, as MATH 211 has less utility outside of the Wisconsin School of Business. Even so, some programs in the Wisconsin School of Business require MATH 221, however! All students should check with their advisors to determine which course is most appropriate. Students who are interested in more advanced courses in mathematics, statistics, data science, engineering, modeling, etc. should likely opt for MATH 221.

Confirm with your advisor that you’re enrolled in the appropriate calculus course!

AP Scores, Transfer Credit, Reevaluations & Credit Exams

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

I took AP Calculus AB/BC and got an A in the class, but didn’t take the exam, and placed lower than calculus. Can I take MATH 221 (or higher)?

No. Assuming you have no other transfer credit for math coursework that would qualify you for MATH 221, course enrollment eligibility is based upon your placement test. We do not evaluate a student’s preparedness for calculus based solely on high school coursework.

I took calculus coursework at my high school that was not for college credit, and placed lower than calculus. Can I take MATH 221 (or higher)?

No. Assuming you have no other transfer credit for math coursework that would qualify you for MATH 221, course enrollment eligibility is based upon your placement test. We do not evaluate a student’s preparedness for calculus based solely on high school coursework.

I took things like IB, A-Level, CLEP, etc. What do those give me credit for?

For an overview, refer to this page from Registrar.

I have transfer credit for a math course. What does this mean?

If a student has transfer credit for an equivalent UW-Madison course (i.e., a named course, like MATH 221) then this credit can supersede a student’s placement via the placement test.

Transfer credit can get complicated, so students should connect with their advisor to discuss it.

I have transfer credit for an equivalent math course, and I'm considering retaking it at UW-Madison. What do you recommend before I make that decision?

You may consider checking out these links to get some ideas on how to refresh your knowledge of math course topics:

We usually recommend that students start off in and attend the first class of a subsequent course before deciding whether to retake a course they already have credit for.

We assume that students enrolling in a math course will have a strong understanding of the prerequisite materials. If a student wants to retake a course then that is perfectly fine, but they should consider whether it is a good use of their time, especially if they already have a strong grasp on the materials presented in the course. 

NOTE: different schools and colleges at UW-Madison have varying policies regarding retakes. For example, here is the College of Letters & Science’s page on retake policies. These may be slightly different for students in other schools or colleges (like CALS or Engineering), and so we strongly suggest that a student speak to their advisor before retaking a course. A common point to make, though, is that you cannot earn degree credit for the same course twice, so transferring in a course and then taking that same course at UW-Madison will not grant you degree credit for the retake course.

I have transfer credit for precalculus, but I placed into precalculus based on my placement test results, and I want to enroll in MATH 221. What are some things I should keep in mind?

In a case like this, our suggestion moving forward is that the student works with their advisor to determine which data point (the placement test or the transfer credit) is indicative of their preparedness. Do they feel comfortable moving into calculus given the discrepancy of having credit for precalculus but placing lower than MATH 221? (Did they just have a bad test day? Did their precalculus course not go too well?)

Before deciding to enroll in MATH 221, students may consider checking out these links:

Two things to consider are:

  1. There is evidence that suggests that students with credit for calculus despite lack of adequate algebra knowledge, function knowledge, etc. but nevertheless make use of their credit to move into more advanced courses (including repeating calculus) tend not to do as well in future technical coursework as their peers.
  2. If a student is interested in working on these skills, then the right course to take is probably MATH 114 or the MATH 171/217 sequence. (Differences between the MATH 114/221 and MATH 171/217 routes can be found here.) That is, taking MATH 221 will not refine precalculus material since it is presumed of students who are enrolled in the class.

So if precalculus is something a student is not comfortable with then it is worthwhile to mention that caution should be taken before moving ahead.

I have credit for MATH 221, but my placement test scores place me below the calculus level. What are some things I should consider if I want to move ahead to further math coursework?

In a case like this–a student may have credit for MATH 221 but their placement test scores place them below calculus–our suggestion moving forward is that the student work with their advisor to determine whether the placement test is indicative of their preparedness. If it is, then note that students with (relatively) underprepared algebra skills and function knowledge (i.e., precalculus) tend to have poor outcomes in college-level math courses (including Calculus 2). In particular, this correlation is stronger than grade or advanced standing in Calculus 1. In such a case, we would suggest that the student consider precalculus or equivalent before moving on, even if they do earn credit for MATH 221 via some means.

I have transfer credit for a math course, but I believe it should transfer in as something else and would like a reevaluation. What can I do?

Students should submit any syllabi that they’d like to have reevaluated via the Course Reevaluation Request form. Notes:

  1. You must submit the syllabi from the semester/term in which you took the course.
  2. The form only takes in one syllabus at a time.
  3. You are strongly encouraged to submit all sequential math courses for review even if you are receiving transfer credit for one or more of them.
    1. For example: You have taken a Calculus I and Calculus II course at your previous institution. Calculus I transferred as MATH 221, but Calculus II transferred as electives. You should submit BOTH your Calculus I and Calculus II syllabi for review, as it may be the case that the combination of both courses are equivalent to our MATH 221 and 222.

For assistance in deciding which syllabi to submit, or for enrollment in mathematics courses in general, please email Kyle Martinez at placement@math.wisc.edu to ask for some help.

I completed a math course elsewhere, but my math transfer credit (via AP/IB/A-Level/college coursework/etc.) has not posted to my student profile yet. What should I do?

There are a few reasons for why your credit is not appearing, which may include:

  • An updated transcript was not received by the Office of Admissions with your math course on it;
  • Your AP/IB/A-Level exam scores were not received by UW-Madison in time for your SOAR appointment;
  • Your transcripts were very recently received and the credit has not been posted yet;
  • If you took the course as a high school student and did not enroll in it for college-level credit, we cannot grant college credit for the course and so credit will not be posted;
  • A mistake was made, and the credit hasn’t been posted yet.

The first step should be to contact the UW-Madison Office of Admissions to inquire about why your credit has not been posted yet.

If you are looking to enroll in a math course: if you have unofficial college (i.e., not high school) transcripts with the course(s) reflected on it, or if you have unofficial score reports for AP/IB/A-Level exams, please attach these as PDFs in an email to placement@math.wisc.edu with a brief summary of your situation. In general, once we see evidence that transfer credit will be granted then we can grant permission for immediate enrollment into the appropriate coursework while you work on getting the credit posted.

Information on downloading an AP score report can be found here.

I'm taking a course right now that should transfer as an equivalent UW-Madison math course. Can I get advance permission to enroll in a math course that uses it as a prerequisite?

No. We must have verification that the course in question was taken and passed. Here are the steps that should be completed in order to request enrollment permission for subsequent math coursework:

  1. Complete the course. After the course has been completed and a final grade has been posted, please send your unofficial transcript (i.e., not a grade report) in PDF form to placement@math.wisc.edu with a brief overview of your situation, as well as a reminder of what math course you need permission for.
  2. Keep an eye out for an email from someone in the Math Department with information on enrollment. Permission could take a day or two, so please be patient.

Do keep in mind that other departments may have different policies on this.

I took substantial calculus coursework in high school or college that can't/won't be transferred as equivalent calculus courses at UW-Madison. I think that I know enough of the material to get credit for calculus courses at UW-Madison. What are my options?

The Mathematics Department offers exams to students who want to earn credit for MATH 221, MATH 222 and/or MATH 234. The exams are offered the first week of the fall and spring semester.

These exams are intended primarily for freshmen who have taken substantial calculus courses in high school, or for transfer students who did not get transfer credits for a calculus course taken at another institution, and who desire to establish college credits for MATH 221, MATH 222, or/and MATH 234. It is open to undergraduate students only.

Students who have been, or will be granted calculus credit by other means—such as through AP exams, transfer credit, etc.—do not need to take these exams. Students who are not sure whether they should take one or more of these exams should check in with their advisors.

More information is listed on the Calculus Credit by Examination page.

I have transfer credit for MATH 101. What does this mean?

MATH 101 is a course that is no longer offered, but was used as preparation for college-level algebra coursework. It can be used as a prerequisite for MATH 112, 114, 141 or 171. Students that have MATH 101 but are having trouble enrolling in one of these courses can be referred to a math consultant, or can email placement@math.wisc.edu for some more help.

Linear Algebra, Honors Calculus & WES-Calculus

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

I would like to take a linear algebra course, but I don't know which to take. What should I enroll in?

We offer four main introductory-level linear algebra courses:

  • MATH 320
  • MATH 340
  • MATH 341
  • MATH 375

All of these courses are slightly different and offer different experiences/topics. One course may be suggested over another depending on a student’s goals and program(s) of interest.

A more in-depth look at our linear algebra offerings can be found here.

What is the MATH 375/376 (Honors Calculus) sequence? What are the requirements to enroll, and how do I apply if I'm interested?

Honors Calculus is a year-long sequence of two courses–MATH 375 and 376–which serves as a more theoretical and advanced alternative to multi-variable calculus (MATH 234), differential equations (MATH 319), and linear algebra (MATH 341). The goal of these courses is to provide highly motivated and well-prepared students with an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of these fundamental areas of mathematics.

This is a rigorous and challenging sequence and is open to students outside of the Honors Program!

Please see our MATH 376/376 page for more information on the sequence, enrollment prerequisites, and the enrollment application form.

What is WES-Calculus, and how can I enroll if I'm interested?

WES = Wisconsin Emerging Scholars. Essentially, some calculus courses have sections which are smaller (~15-20 students), meet more often (6 hours/week rather than 2), and are more intensive. Students in these sections do well compared to the others in the class. WES-Calculus sections also add on an extra 2 credits!

For more information, see the WES-Calculus page.

Need Some More Help with Enrollment, Scheduling or Placement?

Getting Help

Students that would like some help with questions/issues regarding enrollment, class scheduling, and placement can review the Enrollment, Scheduling & Placement Help page.