Department of Physics & Astronomy

Physics Readiness Exam
Math Qualification Test for Introductory Physics – Physics 111 or Physics 220


In addition to meeting course prerequisites, students wishing to enroll in Physics 111 or Physics 220 must demonstrate adequate competence in mathematics by achieving a satisfactory on the Physics Readiness Exam. Scores on the Physics Readiness Exam are valid for one year, starting the day you take the test and ending on the first day of classes during the semester you take the class.

The Physics Readiness Exam is administered by the SFSU Testing Center, which offers the test during three testing periods: one before the Fall semester, one before the Spring semester, and one before the Summer term.

The test takes 50 minutes. The cost is $20.

You may take the test once per testing period. Unfortunately the testing center software allows you to sign up (and pay) more than once per testing period. If you take the test more than once in a particular testing period, we will only count your first result from that period.

No outside aids, including calculators, are allowed.

Students who do not score well enough on the readiness exam to get into a course should review in preparation for the next testing period. See references below for study purposes. Math 199 (previously numbered Math 109) and Phys 101 are SFSU courses that are recommended for preparation.


The readiness exam covers the following topics:

  • Exponents, roots, and scientific notation - ability to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and take powers and roots of variables and numbers expressed in scientific notation.
  • Algebra – Ability to solve linear and quadratic algebraic equations, including use of the quadratic formula. Ability to solve for one variable in terms of other variables. Ability to solve a set of two simultaneous equations.
  • Geometry – Basic knowledge of angles, triangles, perimeters and areas of figures.
  • Trigonometry – Ability to use sin, cos, and tan functions and the Pythagorean theorem.
  • Graphing – Knowledge and ability to work with graphs of linear and quadratic functions, including understanding slopes and intercepts and ability to write the equation for a straight line based on knowledge of the coordinates of two points on the line.
  • High-School Physics – Some elementary questions at the level of high-school physics courses.


Brief lists of relevant formulae and relationships may be found in the back of many introductory physics textbooks.


There are several math review books that might be helpful in preparing for this test, such as:

  • Maths, 2nd edition, by Jenny Olive (Cambridge University Press, 2003), ISBN: 0521017076
  • Just-in-Time Algebra and Trigonometry, by Guntram Mueller and Ronald I. Brent (Addison-Wesley, 2004), ISBN-13: 9780321269430
  • Precalculus – A Self-Teaching Guide, by Steve Slavin and Ginny Crisonino (Wiley, 2001), ISBN: 978-0-471-37823-5

There is a very useful on-line course that you can use to prepare for the readiness test. Go to the ALEKS web site and sign up for Math Prep for College Physics, course code
PHYS 111 - SP 2015 / Math Prep for College Physics E9VLV-9DPXT
PHYS 220 - SP 2015 / Math Prep for College Physics ANXGW-DU6DY
The cost is $30 for 18 weeks of access.

Here is a practice test

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