Exams/Subjects

Placement exams are offered in Writing, Math, Sciences, Music, and Foreign Languages. Some placement exams are offered online while others are only available to take on campus. Brief descriptions of the exams are below. 

Students who have registered for the exams may access them at https://onlineplacement.fas.harvard.edu/.

 

Examinations

Writing

All incoming freshmen are required to complete the writing exam in the summer before arriving on campus. The Writing Exam is designed to provide advice about which Expository Writing course is appropriate for students entering Harvard: Expository Writing 10 or 20. Expos 10 is designed for students who may benefit from an introductory course before taking Expos 20. Students are given a 72 hour window to complete the exam. During this period, they will begin by reading and reflecting upon three sources focusing on a particular topic. They will then write an argumentative essay responding to the readings. More information about this exam can be found on the Writing Program website

Mathematics

All incoming freshmen are required to complete the Math exam. The mathematics exam has three parts. Part I tests number sense, fractions, algebra, elementary functions, and functions and graphing. Part II tests differential calculus and elementary integration (this material corresponds roughly to the Advanced Placement AB curriculum). Part III tests integration, series, and differential equations (material corresponding to our second-semester single variable calculus course). Students are encouraged to complete each part of the exam for which they have studied the relevant material in high school.

Students are given 30 minutes to complete each part. Please note that all three parts must be completed in one sitting. The score on the math placement exam will provide a recommendation for a math course, though students are not required to take math. The recommendation is helpful for placement not only in math, but also in other disciplines.

Biology and Chemistry

All incoming freshmen who are planning to take courses in chemistry, biology, life science, or physical science should complete the online biology and chemistry placement exams. While these exams are optional, students are strongly encouraged to take them regardless of their prior science background. The introductory life sciences courses integrate concepts from both chemistry and biology; in order to best advise them, the department takes into account their scores on both the biology and the chemistry placement exams.

Foreign Languages

Students planning to study a language at Harvard, or who hope to fulfill the Harvard College language requirement, should take a placement exam in any language with which they have prior experience. Online exams are available in French and Spanish while on-campus exams in other languages are available in August and January. More detailed information about the process for language exams is also available. 

Music

Incoming freshmen who have studied music theory are invited to take the placement exam in Music. The exam is administered on-campus during August. The music diagnostic determines at which level a student could most profitably deepen their engagement with music theory. Key skills include an understanding of simple tonal material (scales, intervals, chords, basic roman numeral analysis, and ear-training). Keyboard skills are helpful but not required.