Our department is looking for a better method of placing incoming students in mathematics courses.
Currently we have a placement exam that determines whether a student should begin in a calculus I course or in a calculus/precalculus hybrid course (our lowest-level math class). The exam consists of 25 precalculus questions. It does a pretty good job.
Recently we’ve had an increase in the number of students who have taken a calculus class in high school. If it is an AP class, then we can use their AP score to determine if they should skip the first semester (or more) of calculus. However, students who have taken a good non-AP course slip through the cracks. This is especially true for international students. If those students identify themselves, then we use ad-hoc methods to determine their placement (talking to them, and looking at the syllabus from their course, their exams, and their textbook—which is sometimes not in English).
Because this is time consuming and because it requires the students to come forward to ask for it, it is not ideal. We are now thinking about constructing a placement exam that would determine if a student should place out of first semester calculus. I thought it would be interesting and informative to hear how you do mathematics placement at your school. As I said, we’re especially interested in the Calc I vs. Calc II placement, but other readers may be interested in other math placement issues. Please share your placement procedures in the comments below.
If you have a calculus placement exam and are willing to share it with us, please email me. That would be fantastic. We would keep it confidential and would not post it where it would be publicly available.
If you are interested in how we place students, see our online placement guide.
Note: I know many schools allow students to place themselves. We would rather not go that route. We’ve found that students are not always good at judging their mathematical ability. And we’ve found that it is problematic for the students, for the professor, and for the students’ classmates if a student ends up in the wrong class (either too high or too low). Our placement exam forces the students who do well to go into Calculus I and students who do poorly to go into the lower-level class. Students with scores in the middle can place themselves.