Introductory Chemistry Placement FAQs

Please see below for answers to some frequently asked questions about introductory chemistry course selection.

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Who is a good candidate for CHEM 109?

We recommend that students consider taking CHEM 109 if they:

  • Placed into MATH 221 (required) or higher or have AP/IB test credit or transfer credit for calculus
  • Completed two years of high school chemistry or at least one full-year of a rigorous chemistry course that covered only chemistry, as opposed to a course where chemistry is one of several science topics. The course(s) should have covered stoichiometry, atomic structure, thermochemistry, bonding and molecular structure, equilibrium, acids and bases, and kinetics.
  • Did well in both chemistry and math in high school and enjoy learning chemistry
  • Would like an accelerated and challenging chemistry course
  • Have college-level study skills – includes the ability to learn content and work problems independently, seek clarification from appropriate course resources, solve novel problems, and manage time effectively

Who should choose CHEM 103 instead of CHEM 109?

We recommend that students choose CHEM 103 instead of CHEM 109 if they:

  • Placed out of MATH 112 College Algebra (required) or have college credit for MATH 112, 114, or 171, but do not have a strong (or any) calculus background
  • Completed one year of high school chemistry, but do not meet the other criteria for CHEM 109 listed above
  • Prefer to spend more time per topic than CHEM 109 offers
  • Did not enjoy math or chemistry courses in high school and/or found them challenging
  • Are not an entering first-year student (i.e., a transfer or continuing student)

I am currently enrolled in CHEM 103, and the material covered during the first week of classes is mostly review for me. Should I swap to CHEM 109?

It depends. The first couple of weeks of CHEM 103 might feel like review for some students, but the material does become more challenging as the semester progresses. If your high school chemistry class was very rigorous and/or you had two years of high school chemistry, CHEM 109 could be a good option for you. Please see the other FAQs above for information on the differences between the two options. The deadline for swapping is the Friday of the second week of classes.

I have CHEM 103 credit from the AP Chemistry test. Should I take CHEM 104 or CHEM 109?

Students with CHEM 103 credit from AP Chemistry are strongly encouraged to take CHEM 109, if they meet the math requisite. AP chemistry covers topics from both CHEM 103 and CHEM 104, but not to the same level and depth. By taking CHEM 109, students receive college-level coverage of some CHEM 103 topics (atomic structure, bonding, and intermolecular forces), as well as 104 topics (thermodynamics, kinetics, aqueous equilibrium). When an AP Chemistry student takes CHEM 104, they miss college-level coverage of the 103 topics. Additionally, CHEM 109 (offered fall semesters only) consists of primarily first-year students, while CHEM 104 in the fall is primarily 2nd and 3rd year students. First-year students who elect to take CHEM 109 will have more opportunities to meet other first-year students and form study groups with students who live in their residence hall neighborhood.

I have college transfer credit for CHEM 103. Should I take CHEM 104 or CHEM 109?

Students with transfer credit for CHEM 103 from a college course (as opposed to AP test credit) are encouraged to take CHEM 104. CHEM 109 is very fast-paced. It covers some topics from CHEM 103 as well as all CHEM 104 topics. Many CHEM 104 topics will be new to students who took the equivalent of CHEM 103 elsewhere, and the fast-paced coverage of these topics in 109 could be especially challenging. Additionally, these students already have college-level coverage of CHEM 103 topics, making some 109 topics review.

I did not meet the math requisite for CHEM 109 in my first semester here, but I do now. Is CHEM 109 a good choice for me?

Most students in this situation are advised to first take CHEM 103 and then CHEM 104. CHEM 109 is intended for first-year students with a strong background in both chemistry and math.

I plan to attend medical school or another health-related professional program, and I heard that many professional programs require two semesters of general chemistry. Should I choose CHEM 103/104 instead of CHEM 109?

CHEM 109 is equivalent to CHEM 103/104, and many professional schools (including UW Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health) accept this equivalency. The Department of Chemistry provides a letter that explains the equivalency to professional programs. Students may request a letter by emailing They can then submit the letter with their other application materials. While many schools accept the equivalency, there a few that do not. Contact the Center for Pre-Health Advising ( for more information.

I am enrolled in CHEM 109, and I did not do well on the first mid-term exam. What should I do?

It depends. For many students, the first CHEM 109 mid-term is their very first college-level exam, and understandably, you may have found it to be quite challenging. That does not necessarily mean that CHEM 109 is not the right class for you. Most students who score within a standard deviation of the mean on the first exam and reflect on their studying habits have good outcomes in CHEM 109.

Students with an unsatisfactory score might want to consider transferring late to CHEM 103, if space is available. Before deciding to transfer, it is important to contact your CHEM 109 instructor to discuss your exam grade and their recommendation for you. Meeting with your academic advisor can also help with your decision. Please also read about the logistics of our late swap policy. The deadline for late transfers is usually 4 pm on the Thursday or Friday after the first CHEM 109 mid-term exam.

Whether or not you decide to continue with CHEM 109 or transfer to CHEM 103, we strongly encourage you to speak with your instructor and TA for studying tips. Consider what you might do differently to improve your performance. For example, do you have sufficient time to devote to the course, do you keep up with the work daily, do you seek help when needed, do you work with other students, and do you attend all class meetings? You may also want to take advantage of campus tutoring resources.

Who should take CHEM 108?

CHEM 108 is intended for students who need just one semester of chemistry with laboratory, and it does not satisfy requisites for any further chemistry courses. Students majoring in nursing, business, life sciences communication, agricultural and applied economics, rehabilitation psychology, and wildlife ecology are among those who select CHEM 108.

Are there tutoring and other resources available for help with chemistry courses?

Yes, there are many learning support and tutoring resources available for students taking chemistry courses! Please also see information about more general campus academic support.