Saint Mary's College of California

Mathematics Placement

General Information

All students at Saint Mary’s College of California are required to take an appropriate mathematics course as part of their Core requirements and/or for their major. In order for you to be successful in your mathematics and science courses, you must enroll in a mathematics class for which you are prepared.

All incoming freshmen are required to take the Mathematics Placement Test. Transfer students should also take the placement test if they have yet to complete their mathematics requirements. Please see the instructions for taking the Math Placement Test. If you are entitled to accommodations under the American Disabilities Act, please contact Student Disability Services (, 925-631-4358) to make appropriate arrangements for testing. 

Your score on the Math Placement Test, along with your high school background and your SAT mathematics score, will determine your mathematics placement.

If you are concerned about your math placement for Spring Term 2016, please read the information below, and contact Prof. Michael Nathanson, the Director of Mathematics Placement, at with any further questions. Make sure to indicate your major and which mathematics course you are hoping to take.

Placement Levels and Registration Permission

Your placement level indicates the mathematics course in which you are prepared to succeed and therefore eligible to enroll.

  • Level 1: You may enroll in Math 2, 12, and 10 (subject to prerequisites)
  • Level 2: You may enroll in Math  3, 4 and 5 (as well as courses for Level 1)
  • Level 3: You may enroll in Math 13 (as well as courses for Level 1 and 2)
  • Level 4: You may enroll in Math 27 (as well as courses for Level 1, 2 and 3)

Incoming students are placed in appropriate courses as part of the advising/orientation process.

Math Readiness Courses

Regardless of whether you are an incoming or returning student, if your initial placement does not qualify you for the math course that you need to take, you may retake the Math Placement Test only after completing a preparatory math course (such as Math 2 or Math 12) at Saint Mary’s College.

  • Math 2 (Math Readiness) is a preparatory course for Math 1, 3, 4, or 5.
  • Math 12 (Math Readiness for Calculus) is a preparatory course for Math 13.

Students may take an Intermediate Algebra class instead of Math 2 or a College Algebra class instead of Math 12; these classes may not be online or hybrid classes. Any course taken at another institution must be approved by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and it must be passed with a grade of C- or better. Students enrolled in Math 2 and Math 12 retake the Readiness Exam as part of the course.


  • Which test should I take?  The calculus readiness test should be taken by any student who wishes to take calculus. Calculus is required for all science majors, except Psychology, as well as the Bachelor of Science in Economics, and it is a recommended option in several other majors such as Business Administration. Even if calculus not required in your major at Saint Mary’s, it is required or highly recommended for admission to many related graduate and professional programs. Also, you should bear in mind that many students change their intended major, so taking the calculus readiness test helps keep options open for such a change. A student who is certain that calculus is not in his/her academic plans should take the other test, which assesses algebra skills needed for success in non-calculus courses.
  • Do I absolutely have to take a placement test? The short answer is that almost all incoming students need to take the test. Even if you think that you fit one of the exceptions noted below, a change in academic plans may result in the need to take mathematics courses not included in your prior plans. Thus, it is highly recommended that you take a placement test, no matter what your tentative plans might be. Below are the exceptions which allow you to skip the test:
    • A student who already has college-level credit for calculus does not need to take a placement test. This can take the form of successful course work at a community college or four-year college or an AP calculus score of 3 or higher which has already been reported to Saint Mary’s. (If you take the AP calculus test this May, your score will not be reported in time to exempt you from the placement test.)
    • A student, usually a transfer student, who already has transfer credit for the mathematics course required for their intended major at Saint Mary’s does not need to the test. You should bear in mind that a change of academic plans may require math placement results.
    • A small number of majors do not include a mathematics course in their requirements. Students in those majors can fulfill the Mathematical Understanding goal in their general education Core Requirements by taking Math 10, which does not require a mathematics placement level. Once again, bear in mind that a change of academic plans may require math placement results.
  • What if I pass an AP exam? A student who is awarded credit for an AP exam reported by mid-summer for college-level work  should have a course schedule that reflects the credit. To receive credit for a satisfactory AP score, the score must be officially reported to Saint Mary’s by the College Board. Official transcripts for college-level courses must be submitted to the Registrar. The Director of Mathematics Placement will assist students in adjusting schedules, if necessary.
  • What if I have other questions or problems concerning the mathematics placement process? Contact the Director of Mathematics Placement, Prof. Michael Nathanson ( Other resources for placement issues include the Registrar’s Office (, 925-631-4214) and the Office of New Student and Family Programs (, 925-631-4647).

What’s New

The Math & CS Department is seeking applications for the Brother Dominic Barry Math Scholarships, which will be awarded to incoming freshmen in 2016! For information, go to Activities » Math Scholarship Competition.

Math in the Media

Quanta Magazing highlights a new result of Princeton mathematician Maria Chudnovsky regarding the coloring of perfect graphs.

Ian Agol, a topologist from UC Berkeley, has won the second annual Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics (which carries an award of $3M) for his work in geometric topology. Read the details in Scientific American.