About the ALEKS Math Assessment

ALEKS is a powerful artificial-intelligence based assessment tool that zeros in on the strengths and weaknesses of a student’s mathematical knowledge, reports its findings to the student, and then provides the student with a learning environment for improving this knowledge to an appropriate level for course placement. ALEKS is a McGraw-Hill product, and additional information, including the research behind ALEKS, can be found on their website: https://www.aleks.com/highered

The ALEKS Math Assessment ensures students' readiness for certain math, statistics, and chemistry courses at Penn State. Since these courses are demanding, it is important for students to begin in the course most likely to lead to success. Students will not be permitted to take a course unless they have demonstrated readiness. After completing the initial assessment, students who wish to improve their placement may use the included learning modules.

Once classes begin, ALEKS is no longer available. The highest score is used for pre-requisite checking.

ALEKS for New First-Year and Transfer Students

Beginning in spring 2021, first-year and transfer students admitted to any campus except World Campus who completed calculus in high school will automatically place into the 76-100 ALEKS placement band. The LionPATH Academic Background will show a dummy ALEKS score of 101.

All entering first-year students who do not have calculus on their admissions record will be required to complete ALEKS in order to schedule a course that requires placement as a pre-requisite. Students will be instructed to complete the ALEKS assessment prior to attending their NSO program by multiple official NSO communications.

All entering first-year students, regardless of their high school calculus experience, have automatic access to ALEKS.

Students beginning classes in Spring semester may begin the assessment November 1. Students beginning classes in Summer and Fall semesters may begin the assessment March 1.

New transfer students who do not have calculus on their admission record may be directed to take the ALEKS assessment by their academic adviser using the following guidelines:

  1. Students who have not taken a college level math course should be directed to take ALEKS. Advisers must initiate request for access*.
  2. Students whose transfer courses have been transcribed as equivalent to PSU courses will use those courses to meet prerequisites.
  3. All other students intending to take a math course should work through the campus-specific procedure for pre-requisite overrides. At University Park, advisers are asked to contact Cheryl Hile, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Math directly.

ALEKS for Advanced Standing, Nondegree, and Dual Enrollment students

Dual enrollment students who are seeking to schedule calculus-sequence MATH or Chemistry courses may be directed to take the ALEKS assessment by their adviser. The adviser must initiate request for access*.

Nondegree students are only permitted to take ALEKS in extraordinary circumstances and must work with a Penn State adviser.

In some cases, an adviser may permit a current Penn State student to access the ALEKS assessment. The adviser must initiate request for access*.
An exception or extension of access to ALEKS may be appropriate if:

An exception or extension of access to ALEKS is not appropriate if:

*Advisers must initiate request for access when recommending a student take ALEKS. Each DUS Campus Coordinator has identified individuals at their campus with the ability to update LionPATH with permission for a student to take the ALEKS assessment, at the request of an academic adviser. All exception requests must be made by the adviser, not the student, and should be documented in Starfish.

ALEKS Scores

Minimum ALEKS scores were derived from analysis of the specific skills needed to meet the objectives outlined in Penn State course descriptions and syllabi. These scores suggest basic readiness for successful completion of a course. Similar analysis was completed prior to the decision to apply high school calculus as placement.

Since mathematical skills are cumulative, a student cannot master higher-order skills without first demonstrating mastery of more basic skills.

Penn State sets its own retake and practicing criteria. ALEKS scores from other institutions cannot be transferred to Penn State.

Transfer Credits and ALEKS Scores

Students who have transfer credit for a prerequisite course may schedule a course regardless of ALEKS score. Students with GEN transfer credits for courses that may meet pre-requisite skills should work through the campus-specific procedure for pre-requisite overrides. At University Park, advisers are asked to contact Cheryl Hile, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Math directly.

An adviser should help students with transfer credit determine whether that course left them adequately prepared for the intended course. If the course was completed long ago, students should consider taking the ALEKS placement.

Student view of scores

Upon completing an assessment, students see their placement result, a pie chart showing the extent to which skills were mastered, a link to learning modules, and a link to Penn State’s ALEKS information.


Screenshot of ALEKS website indicating the options to Improve Your Knowledge in a Prep Module or Retake the Placement Assessment.

Students can access this screen by using the ALEKS Assessment link in LionPATH until the end of the drop/add period of their first fall or spring semester.

Students can also see their score via their LionPATH student record. Scores are imported to LionPATH overnight.

Adviser view of scores

Academic advisers can see an individual student’s score via LionPATH. This view shows all scores (including the dummy score, if applicable) and the date each score was downloaded into the student information system. The highest score is used for placement and for pre-requisite checks.

Information on Learning Modules

ALEKS directs students to the learning module that will allow them to make the most immediate gains in skills. The modules are: Prep for Beginning Algebra, Prep for Intermediate Algebra, Prep for College Algebra, Prep for PreCalculus, and Prep for Calculus. Topics covered in each module are available on the McGraw-Hill website.

Once a learning module is started, the student may continue to access the module for up to six months or until the conclusion of their first fall or spring semester, whichever comes first. The student may retake the assessment after spending a minimum amount of time in the learning module. The learning module-retake sequence may be repeated twice.

Once the student's first fall or spring semester concludes, ALEKS retests are no longer available to the student. The adviser may request the student have continuing access to these modules under extraordinary circumstances (see above).

Additional information on Math Placement, Prep & Learning Modules, and the research behind ALEKS is available on the McGraw-Hill ALEKS website.

Prerequisite enforcement

Students who attempt to schedule a MATH course requiring a prerequisite, but who do not meet the prerequisite will not be permitted to register for the class. LionPATH will indicate they have unmet pre-requisites.

Students may meet the prerequisite with:

Students who are enrolled in the pre-requisite at the time of registration will be conditionally registered, and will be allowed to remain if they successfully complete their in-progress course. Students who late-drop or fail a pre-requisite course will be removed from their registered course before the start of the semester.

Statistics courses

Students should demonstrate sufficient algebra skills to be ready for 200-level STAT course content by earning 30 or higher on the ALEKS assessment. STAT 200, 240, and 250 prerequisites are being updated in the Bulletin. SCM 200 was not part of the cut-score analysis, but it has a prerequisite of Math 21.

Chemistry courses

Student success in CHEM 110 depends on sufficient algebra skills as well as prior exposure to and comfort with chemical principles. Students need a score of 61 in order to schedule CHEM 110. Students who are not ready for CHEM 110 should schedule MATH 22 prior to taking CHEM 110.