Math Diagnostic for Physics (8.01) and Math (18.01) Placement


The Math Diagnostic for Physics (8.01) and Math (18.01) Placement is a diagnostic tool that evaluates your high school math preparation, including facility in pre-calculus, i.e., Algebra, Geometry, Logarithms and Exponentials, Trigonometry. You do not "pass" or "fail" this diagnostic. The results are meant to help you and your advisor choose the appropriate version of first year physics and calculus subjects. Your score will place you in 8.01L, 8.01, or 8.012 and will also determine whether you can receive 18.01 credit for your score of 5 on the AP Calculus BC test. Details of these versions of Physics I appear on the Physics Department website.  

Who must take the Math Diagnostic?

The Math Diagnostic is mandatory for all first year students. 

When must I take the Math Diagnostic?

The Math Diagnostic is given as a paper/pencil test on Monday, August 26, 2:30-4:00 pm. You do not need to register in advance; locations will be given you at Orientation check-in. If you need an accommodation due to a disability, please contact Student Disability Services, at 617-253-1674sds-all@mit.edu.

There is no make-up for the Math Diagnostic. If you do not take it, you will not be allowed to enter 8.012 and even if you have a 5 on the AP Calculus BC test will not receive credit for 18.01. In addition, you and your advisor will need to evaluate independently your preparation to succeed in either 8.01 or 8.01L.

Why is it especially important to evaluate my high school math preparation?

Pre-calculus is the language of physics. In Physics subjects, you are presented with problems that will assume that you have instant recall of pre-calculus. Over the years we have found that many students, including those who have completed a high school calculus course, do not perform as well in pre-calculus as they need to.

  • So, if you are rusty in, or did not sufficiently master, pre-calculus, especially trigonometry, you may be recommended to take 8.01L, the Physics subject that reinforces basic concepts and problem-solving techniques.
  • Conversely, if you are highly proficient in high school math, you may be suited to take 8.012, a more mathematically advanced version of Physics I.

How can I practice for the Math Diagnostic?

We recommend that you brush up on pre-calculus over the summer before taking the Math Diagnostic during Orientation, especially if you started calculus early in high school.

Download a practice version of the Math Diagnostic for Physics Placement. Work through the test without looking at the solutions first; then check your answers and use the solutions to figure out where you went wrong on the incorrect answers.

The Physics department recommends in general the Schaum Outline series, published by McGraw-Hill. These books are concise, well-written, inexpensive, and widely available throughout the U.S. and abroad. The following volumes in particular will be of most use:

  • College Algebra covers everything on the Math Diagnostic, except Euclidean geometry.
  • Geometry covers Euclidean geometry in the plane and space.
  • Understanding Calculus Concepts, a good introduction to get a head start on calculus, if you have had none in high school or just a semester.
  • Beginning Calculus, a complete review of the one-variable Advanced Placement course, for those who have Advanced Placement credit, or would like to try for it by taking the Math Department's Advanced Standing Examination during Orientation in late August.

Also check out relevant sections of the Khan Academy website.

For More Information

If you have questions or concerns about the Math Diagnostic, please contact firstyear@mit.edu.