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Who should read this?
This document addresses placement questions for incoming students and
for undergraduates who have not yet taken a math course at Duke.
Note for potential math majors:
If you are considering
a major in mathematics, and if you have advance credit for first and
second semester calculus (Math 21 and Math 22), then you should read
about Math 222. Potential math majors
should also contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics,
Professor Chad Schoen or the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics, Prof. Sarah Schott. (If you have placement questions, please use the SFI Placement Advice contact page.)
The placement information below refers to math courses by number. If you wish
to see a detailed description of a course, then you should refer
Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction for descriptions of all math courses.
Still not sure... :
If you have read all of the discussion below, and all of the relevant
FAQ's (linked below) and other linked pages, and are still not sure
what math class you should start in, you can use the SFI Placement Advice contact page.
Note, if you cannot decide between two courses, you should also
consider attending both courses simultaneously during the first week,
to avoid the very serious problem of finding yourself behind schedule
if you change your mind. (Importantly, note that these courses
are sufficiently different from each other that "dropping back" is
usually not much easier (or more likely to be allowed) than simply
adding a course late in the drop/add period.) See more discussion of this in the Changing Classes section of our Enrollment Policies Page.
Each year the Math Department offers one or more seminars for
first-year students. The seminars vary from year to year, and you can
check the Registrar's Course Schedule
to see what particular seminars are being offered in the current semester. First-year seminars carry the number 89S(49S)
in all departments. The following is a list of topics offered in first-year math seminars in recent years:
The prerequisites for math seminars vary, and you can check what these
prerequisites are by reading the information linked from the
Registrar's Course Schedule.
- Applications of Mathematics to Physiology
- Game Theory and Democracy
- Introduction to Cryptography
- Tilings, Symmetry, and Geometry
Information for Students who have had little or no calculus
The entry level for mathematics is Math 105L or
Math 111L. The following table provides guidelines for
making the choice between these two courses:
||Minimum Math SAT
||Minimum Math SAT II|
If your SAT and SAT-II scores do not indicate consistent placement
in this table, or if your
scores indicate borderline qualification for Math 111L and you've had no calculus whatsoever, then it would be
advisable to start with Math 105L.
Information for Students who have had a year of calculus
Important Note about Math 202 and Math 212:
Starting in Spring 2016, the prerequisites (credit for second semester
calculus) for Math 202 and Math 212 will be enforced at
registration. This prerequisite can be satisfied by Math 22 (AP
or IPC credit), Math 112L, Math 122L, or Math 122.
If you have AP or international placement exam scores that you expect to result in AP or IPC
credit for Math 22 but have not reported the scores yet, you should do
that ASAP to result in the Math 22 credit needed for enrollment in
these courses. If you have taken a second semester calculus
course that you hope will result in PMC or transfer credit for Math 122, you should likewise begin that process ASAP.
If you have a very strong background in second semester calculus that
you feel is equivalent to the level of our Math 122L, but do not have
such credit on your Duke transcript, and if you would like to be
considered for an exemption from the second semester calculus
prerequisite, you may take our "Math 122L Proficiency Exam"; students
who do well on this exam will be granted permission to enroll in Math
212, at the discretion of the Supervisor of First-Year Instruction. This
exam is offered every August, on the Saturday morning before the first
day of classes.
There will also be a one-time January offering of the "Math 122L
Proficiency Exam" this January, due to the Spring start of this
restriction. Click here to REGISTER for this exam.
For students who have taken the AP test: If you have earned
credit based upon your
score, then generally you should enroll in the next higher course; however,
we have found that students may have difficulty in second-semester calculus unless they also
meet certain minimum SAT and Achievement score levels.
If you have AP credit for Math 21, an SAT score of at least
680, and an
SAT-I or SAT-II score of at least 680, then you should enroll
in a calculus II course. In fall semesters Math 122L is reserved for
entering students who fit this situation (and Math 112L is reserved for
students continuing from Math 111L or Math 106L). In spring semesters
Math 122L is not offered but Math 112L is open to all students who
qualify for calculus II.
, provides more information about these courses.
If you have AP credit for Math 21, but you do not meet the minimum
and SAT-I/II levels of the last paragraph, and if you need to continue
in calculus, then it's ususally best to forgo your AP credit for Math
21 and "start over" with Math 111L so that you gain experience in
college-level calculus before you proceed to second-semester calculus.
On the other hand, if you're not certain that you need credit for more
than one semester of calculus, another strategy in this situation is
not to take any math during your first semester; then you could wait to
decide what to do after you have been in college for at least a
semester and after you have a better idea of what academic direction
you will take. After all, it's possible you won't need any more
calculus beyond the one AP credit you've already earned.
If you have AP credit for Math 22, then you have the necessary
credit to enroll in one of our multivariable calculus courses.
However, you are strongly encouraged to consider the option of waiving
your Math 22 credit and starting in Math 122L, before going on to
multivariable calculus. For many students, this option will allow
for a more successful experience in multivariable calculus, by (1)
providing a significantly stronger preparation in single variable
calculus, and (2) allowing the adjustment to Duke-level math courses to
happen in the context of more familiar material, before the student gets to multivariable calculus.
If your Math 22 credit came from the grade of 4 on the BC AP exam, you
should give particularly serious consideration to this option.
Likewise if your SAT score is not strong, or if you have any lack of
confidence in your mathematical preparation or abilities.
There is a myth among students that suggests it is "easier" to get an
"A" in Math 212 than in Math 122L, due to that grade being assigned in
these courses in different proportions. This speculation has many
serious shortcomings (it assumes exaggerated raw numbers; it ignores
the very significantly different sample sets of students in these two
courses; it ignores the inherent selection bias coming from how other
students make this same choice; ... ). If you are concerned about
being able to get a
good grade in Math 212, the best thing you can do is to go in to the
course with the best possible preparation, and that would be best
accomplished by taking Math 122L at Duke.
If you received the score of 5 on the BC AP exam, have a strong SAT
score, and are confident in your mathematical preparation and
abilities, then you might choose to go straight into multivariable
calculus. For many students, Math 212 is the best choice for this
subject. If you are considering majoring in
economics or the social sciences, then you should read about
If you are considering majoring in mathematics or are just interested
in getting a more rigorous experience in the subject, then you should
If you have had a year of calculus and took the AP test and did not
earn credit, then you should place into Math 105L or Math 111L as
indicated by the SAT chart earlier in this document.
For Students Who Have Taken an International Entrance Exam:
Requests for credit based on an internationally recognized entrance
examination, such at the International Baccalaureate, the British
A-level, the French Baccalaureate, and the German Arbitur, should
be sent to the Registrar. A student can
receive up to two credits for one of these tests. In general if Duke
grants you credit for a course, then you should enroll in the next higher
math course. For example, some international students score high enough
on the higher level IB math exam to receive credit for Math 21 and
Math 22, and will then be placed into Math 212
(or Math 202
Students who receive credit for Math 21 can enroll in Math 122L (in fall
semesters) or Math 112L (in spring semesters). If your situation is
different from these cases, or if you desire some other placement based
work out of the country, then you should meet with the Supervisor of First-year Instruction
to discuss placement.
For students who have not taken the Advanced Placement Test or an
International Entrance Exam:
If your SAT score is at least 700 and your SAT-I or SAT-II score is at least 700, and if you feel
you have a strong background in calculus, then you may enroll in a second-semester calculus course (see
for more information)
if you are willing to accept the inherent risk--although the safer
academic route would be to enroll in Math 111L.
On the other hand, if
you are in this situation but wish to place beyond
second-semester calculus, then you should write to the Supervisor of First-year
Instruction, and describe the
contents of the math courses you have had (e.g., textbook and chapters
covered), how well you did in those courses, your SAT and Achievement
scores, and a statement of the placement you desire. It is especially
helpful if you can email a copy of the syllabus, including
the title of the textbook you used and the sections you studied.
If your SAT score is below 700, you should enroll in either Math 105L or Math 111L, according to the table above.
Information for students who have completed a course in
multivariable calculus or higher level mathematics
First, you should be aware that our multivariable calculus course,
includes an important chapter on vector calculus, including line
integrals, Green's Theorem,
surface integrals, and Stokes' Theorem. This material accounts for
approximately a fourth
of our course; thus, if your multivariable calculus course did not
include these topics and if you plan to continue taking math, then you
should enroll in Math 212 (You may also want to consider Math 221, to
be followed by Math 222, if you're interested in being a math major.)
If you have been granted "pre-matriculation" credit for Math 212, and
if you want to proceed to a higher level math course
in your first semester, then you can simply enroll in the appropriate
course when your registration window opens in the summer.
For example, if you are an engineering student, then you would normally
take Math 216 next. (Unless you plan on getting a double
major with math. Please see FAQ #14 below.)
If you do not have credit for Math 212, but you have studied all of the
topics in Math 212 and you feel you should take a course numbered above
Math 212, then write to the Supervisor of First-year Instruction.
In your email message you should describe the
contents of the courses you have had (e.g., textbooks and chapters
covered), the name of the school where you took the courses, how well
you did in the courses, your SAT and Achievement
scores, and a statement of the placement you desire. It is especially
helpful if you can email copies of the syllabi, including
the titles of the textbooks you used and the sections you
studied. Note, Math 212 covers multivariable calculus at a level
that is more rigorous and substantial than high school courses; so,
even if have studied all of the topics in Math 212, you should still
expect to find Math 212 to be a challenging course. And Math 222 (taken after Math 221) would be even more challenging and rewarding.
Students who hope to skip multivariable calculus (or any
math course) should be sure to consider carefully the math requirements
of their likely majors, minors, and certificate plans. Those math
requirements are overseen and enforced by those departments -- not the
Department of Mathematics. Enrollment in and successful
completion of a higher level course CANNOT be assumed to satisfy a
requirement of a lower level course, and very often it will not.
You must get written permission from the Director of Undergraduate
Studies of the appropriate department before you skip any such required
Many questions are in this list of
Frequently Asked Questions.
If you have a question about enrollment, wait lists, or permission numbers, see the Enrollment Policies Page for first- and second-year courses in the Mathematics Department.
If you have placement questions not covered in the FAQs above, you can send an email message to
the Supervisor of First-Year Instruction.
Additional web pages:
Information for First-Year Students