Frequently Asked Questions

Find the answers to common questions about our Mathematical Proficiency Test here. If you have any further questions, please email

Why am I required to take a math proficiency test?

Whether you are a prospective math major, or hope to never take another math class in your life, all students at LC take science and quantitative reasoning courses as part of their general education requirements. The placement test will help you and your advisor decide which math, science and quantitative reasoning courses are best for you and the learning modules will help you build or review the skills essential for success in these courses.  

But regardless of your academic plans, we still require that you take this assessment so that we may better understand our students’ mathematical background. This information helps us design, change, and/or offer courses that best serve the needs of our student body.

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What kind of math is on the test?

ALEKS assesses mastery of a comprehensive set of skills ranging from basic arithmetic up to precalculus, including trigonometry. It will place students in classes up to Calculus. The first questions asked will be drawn from across the curriculum, and may be too easy or too hard. As the assessment proceeds, your answers will be used to give the system an idea of your knowledge, and it will gradually focus the questioning in an individually appropriate way. By the end of the assessment you should find the questions generally challenging but reasonable for your individual level of knowledge.

Click here for a comprehensive list of the topics assessed by ALEKS.

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How can I review before taking the placement test?

If you would like to refresh your math skills before taking your first assessment you could look over the test topic list to find skills to review. Do not feel that you need to learn all of the skills on the topic list, especially those from courses you’ve never taken; your time is much better spent reviewing familiar material. There are many great online resources for reviewing your math skills, here is a short list of resources we have found useful.

A better strategy is to just take your first assessment. When you review on your own it can be hard to self-assess what you are actually proficient in when the content is familiar. You might accidentally skip over familiar material not realizing you have forgotten the correct procedures. The purpose of ALEKS is to streamline this process for you in the initial assessment. It will identify the concepts you are rusty on, and help you review them in the learning module. That way you can get right to the material you are ready to learn, and won’t need to spend unnecessary time reviewing material that you are comfortable with.

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What if I’ve never learned some of the math on the test?

It is likely that you will be asked questions on material you have not yet learned. On such questions it is appropriate to answer “I don’t know.” On any question that you have familiarity with, however, it is important to do your best to answer the question, even if you’re not confident in your answer. “I don’t know” is interpreted by ALEKS to mean that you do not know the topic, and this will be reflected in the assessment results.

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How long is the test?

The assessment length varies from student to student. It is usually 30 questions, and should take about 90 minutes to complete in one sitting.

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Can I use a calculator?

Some questions require a calculator, while others are meant to be answered without one. To know the difference, ALEKS provides a calculator when it is needed. You should only use ALEKS’s calculator rather than your own.  It is important to use the calculator only as intended by ALEKS in order to get the most accurate assessment result.

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What if I have test anxiety?

This isn’t actually a test in the most common sense; it is not something that you can pass or fail. Rather, it is a placement assessment, designed to determine what you know. There is no penalty for incorrectly answering a question, or getting a low score. There is no need to feel pressure to perform at a certain level. The most important thing is that you take the assessment seriously and give it an honest effort so that it truly reflects your level of mathematical knowledge and preparedness. Remember, you will have more opportunities to take the exam! Most students find the learning modules are a very helpful, non-anxiety-inducing, resource for learning the material needed to do better on the exam the next time around.

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What if I don’t do well on the test?

All students will have one opportunity to retake the exam during the summer, and additional opportunities during the school year. Before retaking the exam you will need to spend eight hours in an ALEKS learning module. To see significant improvement, such as a 7 - 10 point gain, it is recommended that you actually spend 10 - 12 hours in the learning module.

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How many times can I retake the test?

You can retake the test up to 5 times in one year.   After your 5th attempt it will cost $25 for another 5 attempts.  You can only take the exam twice this summer.  More opportunities will be offered during the school year.  

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What is a “learning module”?

After you take your initial assessment you will be able to access an ALEKS Prep and Learning Module. The modules are adaptive comprehensive tutorials, individually tailored to each student based on assessment results. From the time that you activate your module you will have 6 months of access.

The module provides practice problems and offers explanations of concepts and procedures. You will receive immediate feedback and, in some cases, suggestions for correcting mistakes. As you demonstrate mastery of certain topics, new topics become available. You are able to review topics you have previously or recently mastered at any time. You can also view a detailed progress report for yourself to determine what topics you know, what topics you do not know, and the topics you are ready to learn next. ALEKS will also show you your learning progress history; you can track time spent in ALEKS by day, the topics attempted during that time, and the number of topics mastered.

There are three learning modules available.

  1. Prep for College Algebra
  2. Prep for PreCalculus
  3. Prep for Calculus.

ALEKS will suggest a module based on your assessment, but you may want to choose a different module based on what courses you want to prepare for. It is okay to choose a module higher than ALEKS suggests because ALEKS will still require that you master prerequisite skills before moving you on to more advanced content. 

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Do I have to use a learning module?

In order to retake the assessment you need to spend at least 8 hours in a learning module. It is recommended that you spend at least 10 - 12 hours in a learning module in order to see significant improvement in your placement score. Try to find 30 - 45 minutes every day to spend in the module, rather than several hours at a time. Of course, you will be more successful in your math and quantitative courses if your ALEKS scores are better than the minimum required. So even if you have placed into the class you want to take, we encourage you to continue to use the appropriate learning modules to review and deepen your preparation for your classes!

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Do I need to take the exam in order to register for classes?

It depends on what classes you want to register for, as well as other factors. If a course has a prerequisite, you will need to demonstrate that the prerequisite has been met before you can register for any of these classes. One way to satisfy the prerequisite is with a satisfactory placement score on the ALEKS assessment.

  • Do you need to take a class with a prerequisite of QR 101? Most Natural Science Courses have a QR 101 prerequisite. If so, you must take the ALEKS placement exam to satisfy the prerequisite.
  • Do you want to take a class with a prerequisite of MATH 115, such as Math 131 (Calculus I)? If so, you must take the ALEKS placement exam to satisfy the prerequisite.
  • Do you want to take a class with a prerequisite of MATH 131? The ALEKS placement exam only places students up to Calculus. Click here for information on taking courses with a Calculus I prerequisite.

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What happens if I can’t take it by the July 15th deadline?

The July 15th deadline is not firm, it is preferred.  We would like you to take the placement test before your first phone call with your summer advisor so that they can appropriately advise on what classes to register for and whether or not to retake the test.

You are strongly encouraged to take and retake the placement test the summer before you begin your studies at Lewis & Clark, while your high school math courses are still fresh in your head, and while you have the opportunity to do it from home.  It is much more challenging to make enough time to adequately prepare for the assessment during the school year.  

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What if I’ve already taken the AP Calculus test?

An AP score of 4 or 5, or an IB score of 5, 6, or 7 means that you do not have to take the test.  

If your score won’t arrive until after the July 15th deadline, you may choose to wait to take the placement test.  However, if you need a math prerequisite to register for one of your first choice classes, that information may not be recorded by the registrar in time for registration.  In that case, you should just take the assessment now to have it out of the way.  Students who expect to score well enough on the AP or IB Math exams should expect to do just fine on the placement test! 

However, even if you have taken Calculus, you may still find some content on the exam challenging.  This is because there are many important quantitative concepts from earlier in your mathematical career that you probably haven’t had to use much since then. Yet, these are the very concepts that are quite valuable in courses that require quantitative reasoning and analysis rather than advanced mathematical techniques. The learning modules are a perfect way to efficiently review this material and improve your score. 

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What if I’m not planning on taking any math or science courses this fall or this year?

If you are someone who keeps math and science at a distance, your advisor may or should strongly encourage you to rethink your plan for putting off your Natural Science Courses requirement. Indeed, the sooner you take these courses, the fresher your most recent mathematical knowledge will be.  And who knows? Maybe you’ll even enjoy it more than you think and decide to pursue a major that you wouldn’t have previously considered!

Even if you are definitely not planning on taking a natural science course this year, it is better to take the placement exam as soon as possible, so that you can have more time to prepare and plan if needed.

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What (or who?!) is ALEKS?

ALEKS stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces, named by the developers for its basis in Knowledge Space Theory – a scientific theory that originated in the early 1980s by cognitive scientists and applied mathematicians at New York University and The Free University of Brussels. An adaptive, online, assessment and learning program, ALEKS has been proven to significantly raise grades, retention, and pass rates at higher education institutions around the world. By providing effective, individualized learning in an open-response environment, ALEKS quickly resolves college-readiness and course mastery issues for millions of students.

PPL stands for Placement, Preparation, and Learning. The ALEKS math placement system uses artificial intelligence and adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know, and what they are ready to learn. After the assessment, students are provided with access to an adaptive learning environment called a Prep and Learning Module. Based on the individual student’s assessment results, ALEKS guides students through content that they are ready for, building the foundation required to move onto more advanced content. ALEKS periodically reassess the student to verify and solidify content mastery, a practice shown by research to help improve long term knowledge retention. This is the first year that Lewis & Clark College is using ALEKS PPL. We hope to find that our students are more accurately placed in classes they are ready for, and that our students will take advantage of the Learning Modules in order to increase their readiness, or to improve their placement. In the best case scenario, time spent over the summer can lead to expanded academic options in the fall, and increased preparation for success. Read more about ALEKS here and here.

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