About the exam

Determining whether you need to take the exam

Registering for Chem 101A or 103A

Using the results of the test

Preparing for the test

Back to the Chem 101A/103A prerequisite menu

This document was created on 11/8/00
Last update:



"What is the purpose of the exam?"

In past years, significant numbers of students would enroll in Chem 101A or 103A without adequate preparation in chemistry. In order to be successful in either course, a student must already know, and be able to use, the basic ideas that are developed in a course such as Chem 40. The exam helps us identify those students who are clearly underprepared and redirect them into a course in which they have a realistic chance of success. It also helps students assess their own understanding of the required background topics.

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"How well do I need to do on the exam?"

This question has no easy answer, because the exam is not the only means of placing students into Chem 101A or 103A. See below for detailed information about using the test results. However, students who do not get at least 23 questions correct (out of 44) are normally directed into Chem 40.

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"How was the cutoff determined?"

The chemistry department carried out a three-semester pilot study (in 1997-1998) before making the placement exam mandatory. We administered the exam to all Chem 101A students during the first week of instruction. To ensure that the students took the exam seriously, we counted their score as part of their grade in Chem 101A. The results of this study demonstrated that students who get fewer than 23 questions correct have no significant chance of passing Chem 101A: out of 123 students who scored below 23, only 3 passed the course (all of them with a low C).

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"How do I take the test?"

The test is given several times during the registration period and the first week or two of classes. The current test schedule is available on this website: click here. You may take the exam on any scheduled testing date. We recommend that you contact the City College testing office (Conlan Hall room 203, 415-239-3129) to verify the test dates and locations. All testing sessions are held on the main campus at Ocean and Phelan Avenues.

You do not need to register for the test ahead of time: simply show up on your chosen date. However, be sure to bring a photo ID: you will need to show this to the testing staff when you turn in your exam.

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"How long will I have to work on the test?"

You will have one hour to work on the placement exam. Be sure to arrive at the testing location on time: latecomers will not be allowed to work past the stop time. If you are going to be very late to your testing session, you should simply take the test at a later date.

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"Whatís on the test?"

Click here for information about the topics covered on the placement exam, as well as what you can bring to the test site.

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"Who needs to take the placement test?"

Itís easier to tell you who doesnít need to take the test. You donít need to take the test if you passed an introductory chemistry class at City College (Chem 40), or if you scored 3 or higher on the Advanced Placement test in chemistry. You can also get a waiver if you have taken and passed a course that is equivalent to Chem 101A at a different college. All other students must take the placement exam.

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"I passed Chem 40 a long time ago. Do I need to take the placement test?"

No, you donít. Any student who passed Chem 40 at City College, in any semester, is exempt from the test and may register in Chem 101A or 103A. However, if a long time has passed since you took your preparatory course, you may want to consider retaking Chem 40 to refresh your memory: consult the chemistry department for advice.

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"I took Chem 101A a couple of years ago, but had to withdraw. Do I need to take the placement test?"

Yes, you do, unless you passed our preparatory class (Chem 40). This also applies to students who took 101A or 103A but got a D or an F. In the past, many students enrolled in Chem 101A even though they were obviously underprepared for the course. You may not be among them, but we have no way to assess this unless you take the placement exam.

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"I took the equivalent of Chem 40 at a different college. Can I get a waiver of the placement exam?"

No, you cannot. Unfortunately, there is no standard to which all colleges conform. It has been our experience that some colleges set very low standards for their preparatory chemistry class, and students who take prep chemistry at these colleges are not prepared for Chem 101A/103A at City College. We have therefore found it necessary to administer the placement exam to all students coming to us from other institutions, regardless of their previous chemistry coursework. No waivers will be permitted for Chem 40 equivalency.

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"I took the equivalent of Chem 101A at a different institution, but I want to retake the course at City College. Do I have to take the placement exam?"

No, you don't, as long as you passed the class (C- or better) and you have a transcript. If you passed a course that is equivalent to 101A, you should bring a transcript to the chemistry department (Science Hall 210, 415-239-3377), along with an official description of the course you took (e.g. the college course catalog). We will then give you a form that allows you to skip the chemistry placement exam.

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"Iím taking Chem 40 now. Do I need to take the placement exam?"

No, you do not. As long as you pass Chem 40, you are automatically eligible to take 101A/103A. However, if you get a D or an F in Chem 40, you will have to repeat that course or take the placement exam. (We strongly advise any student who fails Chem 40 to repeat that course.)

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"With the new placement test, how do I register for Chem 101A?"

You register for Chem 101A or 103A the same way you register for any other credit course at City College. You can register (by telephone or in person) at any time during your registration period. However, you have to satisfy all prerequisites before you register. See the next question for further information.

Note: a detailed description of how to satisfy the prerequisites for Chem 101A and 103A is available on this website: click here.

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"I have to take the placement test. Can I register for 101A early and take the test later?"

No, you cannot: the college registration system will not allow you to enroll in Chem 101A or 103A until you have demonstrated that you have completed all of the prerequisites.

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"If I take the placement test now, but decide not to enroll in Chem 101A this semester, will I need to retake the test?"

No: the test score is valid forever. (However, if you wait a long time before enrolling in 101A or 103A, you should do some reviewing before classes start.)

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"According to the catalog, I need to have completed Math 860 to take Chem 101A. I didn't take math here: what do I do?"

Call the Matriculation Office for information about math prerequisites for Chem 101A and 103A: their number is (415) 239-3751. There are several ways that you can satisfy the math prerequisite:

  • Complete Math 860 (or a higher-level math course) at CCSF. You can enroll in Chem 101A or 103A for next semester if you are currently taking Math 860, but you will need to pass Math 860 to remain in the chemistry course. You may not enroll in Chem 101A/103A and Math 860 concurrently.
  • Take the CCSF algebra placement exam. If you are placed into Math 90 (advanced algebra) or a higher level course, you will be considered to have satisfied the math prerequisite for Chem 101A/103A. However, if you are placed into Math 860, you will need to take that course before enrolling in Chem 101A/103A.
  • If you have passed a math course equivalent to Math 860 (intermediate algebra) or a higher-level course at a different college, you will be considered to have satisfied the math prerequisite and you will not have to take the algebra placement test. Examples of other courses that will make you eligible for a waiver are advanced algebra, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and any calculus course. Bring your transcript or grade report, together with a course description (an official course outline, a syllabus, or the catalog description) from the college where you took the course, to the Matriculation Office (Conlan Hall room 204, 415-239-3751). Please note: high school courses may not be used to satisfy the math prerequisite. If you have only taken math courses in high school, you will need to take the algebra placement exam to verify your math level.

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"How do I get my test results?"

When you take the test, you will be given a specific time and location to pick up your test results. You will need to provide identification when picking up your results.

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"Does the test alone determine whether I take Chem 101A or Chem 40?"

No, it does not. By law, any community college that uses a placement test must have a supplemental way to evaluate students who take the test and to place them into courses. Here at City College, students who take our placement test have the option of going to a chemistry department advisor to discuss their test results and their chemistry background. You can do this regardless of your score on the test, and we encourage you to do so if you have any concerns about the test results or your chemistry placement. Click here for more detailed information on advising.

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"If I score 23 or higher on the placement test, do I have to take Chem 101A/103A, or can I still enroll in Chem 40?"

You can enroll in Chem 40 regardless of your placement test results. Every semester some students score above 23 but feel that they need additional preparation and enroll in Chem 40. You do not need to get any sort of signature from an advisor, although you are welcome to seek advice if you wish.

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"If I score below 23 on the placement test, but Iím sure Iím ready for 101A or 103A anyway, what should I do?"

You will need to make an appointment with a chemistry department advisor and demonstrate to the advisor (who will be a chemistry instructor) that you are prepared for 101A/103A. The advisor will be looking for specific demonstrations of chemical knowledge, so you should be prepared to answer a variety of basic chemistry questions. Advisors will not override the placement test score based solely on a studentís opinion of his/her knowledge of chemistry. Contact the chemistry department at 415-239-3377 to set up an advising appointment.

You should be aware that many students in the past scored below the cutoff but chose to remain in Chem101A (before the test became mandatory), based on their belief that the test result was not representative of their ability to succeed in the course. However, in the vast majority of cases these students did not pass Chem 101A.

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"If I do poorly on the test, can I retake it?"

The following is the Chemistry Placement Test Retake Policy:

1.†††††††† If you have never enrolled in a Chemistry class:You may retake the placement test after two weeks.Testing cycles:

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Pre-Fall:†††††††††† End of April through August

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Pre-Spring:†††††† End of October through January

2.                  If you are currently enrolled in a Chemistry class:You may not retake the placement tests.

3.†††††††† If you have completed or withdrawn from a Chemistry class:††††† You may retake the test(s) three months after the posting

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† of the final semester grade for the class.

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"If I do well on the placement test, will I pass 101A or 103A?"

The placement test is not a predictor of your grade in Chem 101A or 103A. The placement exam can only tell whether you know enough basic chemistry to enter 101A or 103A: it cannot predict whether you will be able to handle the demands of the course. (There is a correlation between placement exam score and 101A grade: students who score very well on the exam are more likely to do well in Chem 101A than those who do not. However, the correlation is not strong and it is complicated by a number of other factors. We have seen students perform extremely well on the placement exam only to fail 101A, and we have seen students score just above the cutoff and do reasonably well.)

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"What does the placement exam cover?"

The majority of the questions are taken from the material in any preparatory chemistry course. This includes basic numerical manipulations (algebra, graphing, the metric system, unit conversions, and scientific notation), atomic structure (the subatomic particles, their numbers and locations in an atom), basic nomenclature (common elements and ions, ionic compounds), stoichiometry (balancing equations, moles, limiting reactants, etc.), solutions (concentration units, dilutions, electrolytes), basic gas laws, the periodic table (classification of elements, organization of the table), and electronic structures (Lewis dot structures, valence electrons, electron configurations). There are a few questions on other topics, but knowledge of the material above (which can be found in the current Chem 40 textbook) is enough to pass the placement test with ease.

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"Are there any practice tests available?"

No, there are not. It would defeat the purpose of the test to give people more detailed information about the contents of the test.

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"What types of questions are on the test?"

The test is entirely multiple-choice. Calculators are permitted.You cannot use any notes or other materials during the test, and you may not use laptop computers, graphing calculators, dictionaries, or any other items. A periodic table will be provided as part of the test.

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"Why canít you give out more detailed information about the test (practice tests, study guides, etc.)? Wouldnít this make it easier for students to pass the test?"

You should not focus on "passing" the placement test: doing so will not improve your GPA or help you get into any advanced program or school. Your focus should be on giving yourself the best chance of doing well in Chem 101A or 103A (which will improve your GPA, etc., etc.). Getting into Chem 101A/103A is not all that difficult for anyone who has some basic knowledge of chemical principles, but getting through Chem 101A/103A is very challenging for most students, even those with strong backgrounds. Be realistic: do you really want to take a class that you have no significant chance of passing? If you are not comfortable with the basic ideas of chemistry, take the introductory course, give yourself a firm foundation, and then take Chem 101A/103A, secure in the knowledge that you have the needed preparation to succeed.

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