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Symbolic and Quantitative Resource Center (SQRC)

Frequently Asked Questions

Find the answers to common questions about the ALEKS mathematics proficiency test here. If we didn’t answer your burning question, click here to let us know.

Note: If you are an incoming student, you may find this list of FAQ more relevant.

What is ALEKS PPL?

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 reassesses the student to verify and solidify content mastery, a practice shown by research to help improve long term knowledge retention. This is our second year that Lewis & Clark College has used ALEKS PPL. We were very pleased to find that our students are more accurately placed in classes they are ready for, and that students who took advantage of the Learning Modules improved their placement and their readiness for their courses.  Students, too, were very pleased with the process and felt that the learning modules were very helpful and even fun!  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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Do I need to take the placement test?

All Category B Science & Quantitative Reasoning general education courses have a prerequisite of “QR101 or equivalent” or a higher level math course. To satisfy this prerequisite students must either take the ALEKS placement exam, OR meet one of the conditions below:

  • Successful completion of QR101 or CS102 (no longer offered as of FA14) 
  • A score of 4 or 5 on an AP exam in Calculus AB or BC
  • A score of 5, 6, or 7 on an International Baccalaureate higher level or standard level mathematics exam (IB Math Studies students must still take the assessment)

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What if I don’t do well on the test?

You can retake it!  There are several opportunities during the school year.  Check this website for upcoming dates.  But to have the best chance at significant improvement, use the learning module regularly!

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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.  Your six months of access begins when you access the module, not from the time that you take your placement test.

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Do I need to use a learning module?

You will be more successful in your math and quantitative courses if your ALEKS score is 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 module to review and deepen your preparation for your classes! 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.

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Can I just take QR101 instead of taking the test?

No.  Even QR101 requires students to score at least a 30% on the ALEKS placement exam.  If you score under a 30% then you absolutely need to use a learning module and retest.  We do not offer any remedial math courses at Lewis & Clark; if you are unable to achieve a score of 30% then please contact Margot Black ( to determine the best course of action.   

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What is on the test?

ALEKS assesses mastery of a comprehensive set of skills ranging from basic arithmetic up to precalculus, including trigonometry. It places 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 list of all the topics on the ALEKS placement exam.

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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 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 youarecomfortable with.

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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 not 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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