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Mathematics Placement

Your initial placement - how to decide which mathematics courses to take first.

Students entering the University are often puzzled by mathematics placement. Placement in mathematics courses is probably more complicated than in any other discipline. The department offers as many as fifteen different courses that would reasonably have a majority of first time freshmen. The various degree programs at the University have more than 20 distinct sets of mathematics requirements.

Rather than go through the requirements for each program, it makes more sense to break programs into groups with similar math requirements.

  • Group 1: Students in Science/Pre-Med/Mathematics/Computer Science/Engineering
  • Group 2: Students in Engineering Technology
  • Group 3: Students in Business
  • Group 4: Students in Parks Flight Science
  • Group 5: Students in Groups 1 through 4 needing serious remedial work
  • Group 6: Students satisfying general requirements
    • Group 6A: Students for whom MATH 120 would be challenging (Remedial math placement)
    • Group 6B: Students not needing remediation
    • Group 6C: Strong/honors students

Our goal is to place the student in an appropriate mathematics course that offers the student a good chance of success. Students placed in too easy a course may be bored or develop poor study skills and thus be handicapped in future mathematics courses. Students is too easy a course may also correctly feel that they are wasting time and tuition by retaking material they learned in high school. On the other hand, students placed in too difficult a mathematics course may be hopelessly lost and become discouraged.

Some helpful strategies in finding the math course best suited for you:

  • Talk to your advisor.
  • Talk to faculty members in the area in which you want to major.
  • Academic services has a desk set of textbooks used in introductory math courses. Looking at the textbook may help you decide if a course is too hard or too easy.
  • Talk to your advisor.

In spite of our best efforts, the mathematics course selected may not be the most appropriate one. If, after attending class during the first week of the semester, you feel incorrectly placed, you should consult with your math instructor and then meet with your advisor. Problems get harder to fix after the first week of class.

Mathematics courses routinely taken by freshmen

For more information on the courses see the mathematics course descriptions.

Remedial courses

Intended to prepare students to take other courses specified by their degree requirements.
  • MATH 112 - Intro to Elementary Algebra I (The first half of MATH 114)
  • MATH 113 - Intro to Elementary Algebra II (The second half of MATH 114)
  • MATH 114 - Intermediate Algebra - Equivalent to Algebra I in high school
  • MATH 120 - College Algebra - A course to prepare students for more math courses. Same material as standard Algebra II or Algebra II/Trig in high school.

General education courses

Terminal Courses

Designed for students needing one math course, with content not specified by major.
  • MATH 122 - Finite Mathematics - Lowest level terminal course; satisfies A&S core
  • MATH 124 - Math and Escher - A SLU Inquiry course
  • MATH 125 - Math in the Real World - A SLU Inquiry course
  • MATH 126 - Statistics in Sports/Politics - A SLU Inquiry course
  • MATH 130 - Elementary statistics with computers - Satisfies A&S core; does not require prior computer experience
  • MATH 165 - Cryptology - A SLU Inquiry course

Main Line Courses

Designed to cover specific content material required by a programs and departments.
  • MATH 132 - Survey of Calculus - Minimum for B&A students as well as aviation science students
  • MATH 135 - Discrete Mathematics - Concepts of discrete mathematics used in computer science; sets, sequences, strings, symbolic logic, proofs, mathematical induction, sums and products, number systems, algorithms, complexity, graph theory, and finite state machines.
  • MATH 141 - Pre-calculus - Basically a course in trigonometry. It is equivalent to a yearlong high school course in analysis or pre-calculus.
  • MATH 142 - Calculus I - Differential calculus
  • MATH 143 - Calculus II - Integral calculus

Mathematics placement advice by group

Group 1: Students in Science/Pre-Med/Mathematics/Computer Science/Engineering

Strong students will have had a year of calculus in high school and should start in Calculus II (MATH 143); typical students either take MATH 142; or MATH 141, then MATH 142. Students having credit for Calculus I upon entering SLU but in need of an additional math course to fill the core requirement may elect to take MATH 165 or MATH 167.

Group 2: Students in Engineering Technology

Students normally take MATH 141, then MATH 142 during their first year.

Group 3: Students in Business

Students would be expected to take MATH 132; or MATH 120, then MATH 132.  In addition, students planning to do graduate work in business will need more math and should discuss taking MATH 141 and MATH 142, which satisfies B&A requirements, with someone from B&A.

Group 4: Students in Parks Flight Science

Students would be expected to take MATH 142; or MATH 141 and MATH 142; or MATH 120, then MATH 141 and MATH 142.

Group 5: Students in Groups 1 through 4 needing serious remedial work

Students in Groups 1 and 2 who are not ready for MATH 141 or in Groups 3 and 4 who are not ready for MATH 120 are at least a semester behind in a key field. This issue should be explicitly discussed.

Possible paths to MATH 120 are:
  • MATH 112, MATH 113
  • MATH 114

Possible paths to MATH 141 are:

  • MATH 112, MATH 113, MATH 120
  • MATH 114, MATH 120

Group 6: Students satisfying general requirements

The subgroups listed below are in order of increasing math preparation. They are filling the requirement that they take an appropriate mathematics course with MATH 120, College Algebra, being the lowest course that counts.

Group 6A: Students for whom MATH 120 would be challenging (Remedial math placement)

Students in this group should take the COMPASS placement test. Possible paths are:

  • MATH 122
  • MATH 114, MATH 122
  • MATH 112, MATH 113, MATH 122

Group 6B: Students not needing remediation

Choose one depending on interests of student:

  • MATH 122 - Mathematical preparation equivalent to that of MATH 120
  • MATH 124/MATH 125/MATH 126/MATH 165 (SLU Inquiry courses) or MATH 130 - These are more interesting courses. However, they do not prepare the student for higher mathematics courses. Education, Communications, and Fine Arts prefer the SLU Inquiry courses for their students when appropriate. MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126 and MATH 130 are offered both semesters.
  • MATH 135 - Mathematical preparation slightly above that required for MATH 122.
  • MATH 132, MATH 141 or MATH 142 - These courses keep your options open.

Group 6C: Strong/honors students

  • One of the courses in Group 6B or
  • MATH 266 - Students should have done well in a year of high school calculus or have credit for Calculus I. This will count for honors credit for freshmen and sophomores. It is the transitions course to what mathematicians will think of as real math.
  • MATH 130 or MATH 166 - Students who have credit for Calculus I from high school and do not need Calculus II but do need one math course at SLU to satisfy the core requirement.
  • MATH 165 - Students should have 4 years of high school math.

Evaluating mathematics courses in a high school transcript

  • The standard sequence of high school math courses is Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II (or Algebra II/Trig), Pre-calculus (or Analysis), and Calculus. A first cut at mastery would be courses with a grade of B or better.
  • Algebra II typically covers the same material as College Algebra. This should be a sophomore or junior level course and is required for admission according to the catalog. Often the course will be titled as Algebra II/Trig. In such a case the treatment of trigonometry is typically very superficial.
  • A solid year course in Calculus in high school covers about 1 1/2 semesters of college calculus.
  • Many students will fall off the main mathematics track after Algebra II or Analysis/Pre-calculus. They may take courses like Statistics, Business Math or Discrete Math. Such courses will not prepare students to go deeper in the standard math sequences, but they will raise math maturity and should be considered as preparation for the freshman courses that do not go on. These include MATH 122, MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126, MATH 135, MATH 165 and MATH 167.


Students are placed in a math course based on their Math-Index. This number is computed based on the ACT or SAT score and their high school GPA. The placement of students is based on the success rates of students from previous years.

No placement test is perfect, and students who feel the Math-Index may not be placing them correctly have some options:

  • If you feel you should be in a lower level course, simply ask you adviser to move you down to the appropriate course.
  • If you think you should be placed in a higher level course, you should take a diagnostic test. These tests check that you have sufficiently mastered the material in the pre-requisite course.

The Diagnostic Test:

  • These tests are available in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
  • They will take approximately 2 hours to complete.
  • You may retake the diagnostic test if you like.
  • You may use your own scientific or graphing calculator. Note however that unacceptable calculators at the current time are
  • HP 38G, 39G, 39G+, 48G, 48G+, 48GX unless the infrared port is covered with opaque tape
  • HP 40G, HP 48G2 and HP 49G
  • TI 89 and TI 92
  • Casio CFX-9970G, Classpad 300 and Algebra FX2.0.
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