Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Do I Need to Take a Placement Test?

Main content start

Students new to Stanford often worry about making sure that they are enrolled in the class that most clearly corresponds to their skills, experience, and needs. Different departments and programs handle this challenge in a variety of ways. For some classes, you might need to take a placement diagnostic over the summer or during NSO. For others, you will want to consult with the relevant department directly.

Common Placement Questions and Challenges


  • If you plan to take a general chemistry sequence, the Chemistry placement test can help you determine whether you should take Chem 31A/B (a two-quarter sequence) or Chem 31M (a single quarter sequence) in Autumn, or plan to focus on building Math skills in Autumn and Winter and take Chem 11 in Spring as a bridge to general chemistry in Sophomore Year.
  • It will also reflect whether your preparation is sufficient to skip the general sequence and start with Chem 33 or other courses in Chemistry and related departments.
  • Students who have an AP score of 4 or 5 or IB credit and do not wish to go directly into organic chemistry should enroll in the Chem31M sequence. All other students who are interested in taking general chemistry at Stanford must take the Autumn 2023 General Chemistry Placement Test before Autumn quarter begins
  • Also note that there are 2 different tests - The General Chemistry Placement and the General Chemistry Proficiency; which one is right for you will depend on your background in Chemistry.  You can find more information as to choosing the right Chemistry course here.
  • Visit the Chemistry Department’s frequently asked questions page for further guidance on course selection and placement.
  • The Chemistry Placement Test is only offered online in Canvas from August 1 through September.

Foreign Language

  • If you've never studied a language before, you do not need to take a placement test. You may enroll in the first quarter of the first-year sequence.
  • If you have any prior exposure to a language you wish to continue studying at Stanford, you must take a placement test. Even if you wish to start over from the beginning, the placement test is still required. Students are not allowed to self-place without a placement test and may not place themselves in a course below the level of their placement.
  • If you wish to try to place out of Stanford's Undergraduate Language Requirement, you should take the placement test.
  • Learn more about foreign language placement exams on the Language Center's website.


  • If you plan to enroll in any introductory math course from Math 18 through Math 51, you are required to take a placement diagnostic. These courses cover material from pre-calculus (Math 18), single variable calculus (Math 19, 20, 21), through linear algebra and multivariable calculus (Math 51). Thus, most students taking math in their first year will need to take the placement diagnostic.
  • The math placement diagnostic results are recommendations only, and non-binding. However, you will not be allowed to enroll in Math 19, 20, 21, or 51 until you take the test.
  • Visit the Math department's placement page for more info about the math placement diagnostic (only offered online in Canvas) and advice for students trying to determine the correct math class for their background and needs.


You must take the Placement Diagnostic if you have never taken an Introductory Physics course at Stanford (i.e., you have not taken at least one of PHYS 21, 23, 25, 40, 41, 41A/E, 43, 45, 61, 63, 65) AND you would like to enroll in one of these courses:  PHYS 21, 40, 41, 41E, 43, 45, or 61.

Placement Tests & Diagnostics for New Students

Review the specific placement tests and diagnostics offered to new students over the summer (online) and during New Student Orientation. Specific scheduling information will be added to this page by September 1 and will also be available in the NSO Student Calendar.

Have Questions?

Where a department offers a diagnostic, the best advice is to take it. Note that placement test results cannot erase AP credit: you will still have that AP credit unless you choose to take a class that repeats the material. In other words, simply taking a placement diagnostic can never harm you!

Many departments do not offer diagnostics, in which case one-on-one conversations are likely best. Begin by talking with your Academic Advisor, who can help you interpret course descriptions in ExploreCourses and give you a general sense of where to start in any field. If you have further questions about course placement, feel free to contact the relevant department or ask your academic advisor whom to contact.

See Also

Return to the Advising Student Handbook