Placement Exams

Looking at Mudd’s core curriculum, you may be wondering why we include some of the classes we do. Calculus, for example, when one year of high school calculus is required for enrollment. This blog post addresses some of those questions and options for placing out.

First: calculus. At HMC, Math 19, our core calculus course, spends a short time on single variable calculus as might be covered in a high school calculus class but it mainly focuses on multivariable calculus. As a background in multivariable calculus is assumed in other classes, it is important for students to be comfortable with the material. Math 19 also serves as a way to help students get used to how the math department wants students to show their work. There is an emphasis on proof writing that, again, is built on in later classes. So even if you are more familiar with the math material, you will still learn something from the class. Knowing how to present your work in a clear fashion is just as important as being able to do the work. That being said, if you still feel like this class isn’t for you, there is the chance to take a placement test to opt out of it during orientation. Not very many students end up placing out, but the option is there.

Now let’s look at computer science. CS core at Mudd comes in multiple ‘flavors,’ depending on student interests and their previous experience. First, there is CS 5 Gold, our intro CS class for people who have no or very little previous CS experience. CS 5 Green covers much the same information as CS 5 Gold, only with biological examples such as finding homologous genes in sequences of DNA. CS 5 Black is the last flavor of CS 5, and it is for the people who have some experience in coding but not a ton. All versions of CS 5 leave students ready to continue on in the computer science curriculum at Mudd (CS 60). Finally, students with a strong background in computer science may test into CS 42. CS 42 is like a combination class, which fulfills the core CS requirement and covers most of CS 60, allowing students to pass on to other CS classes. Because it covers more material, even with assumed knowledge, CS 42 does move at a fairly fast pace. Any student can choose to take CS 5 Gold or Green, but CS 5 Black and 42 require taking a placement test offered during orientation.

The last subject that I want to cover in this post is physics. Everyone takes a half-semester course in special relativity their first semester. This is designed to get students used to different ways of problem-solving that are useful at Mudd in a subject that most, if not all, students have no experience in. The second-semester course is Physics 24: Mechanics which more people are already familiar with. Students have the opportunity (again during orientation) to take a diagnostic test that covers topics in math and mechanics to see if they should take the general mechanics class, enroll in the slightly more advanced version, Physics 24A, or possibly test out entirely. Scoring well on the diagnostic lets you take a placement test later on in the semester to determine the best fit for you.

Professors at Mudd have students’ best interests at heart during these placement tests. It is recommended that you do not study for them to provide the most accurate representation of your current knowledge; nobody wants you to flounder in later semesters that rely on previous knowledge. Still, it is worth taking them if you so desire. I have experienced both results, I tried to test out of calculus and didn’t end up doing so even though I expected to, and I placed into physics 24A when I do not consider myself a physics person or particularly good at it. Personally, I’m a bit glad I didn’t end up testing out of calculus because it gave me a slightly easier, though still engaging, class while I was finding my feet at Mudd. If you do place into a higher class, remember that the decision to take it is in your hands. Your advisors will make a recommendation, and if you try it and it is too hard then there is always the chance to switch sections to the regular version during the first few weeks of the semester. There is no shame in preserving your mental health by taking a slightly easier class.

This blog was written by Anya ’23