Chemistry Placement Assessment

General Chemistry Assessment, Tutoring, and Remediation - ALEKS for Chemistry

Because everyone in the Department of Chemistry and everyone at ISU wants students to succeed, and because general chemistry is one of the most challenging subjects studied in the first year, we have provided all incoming students intending to take a general chemistry class with a new tool that will...

*rapidly identify any important gaps in high-school math and science preparation, and

*efficiently assist students to eliminate those gaps through guided self-study

*help academic advisers and students select the appropriate chemistry course

This tool is called ALEKS ("Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces"), and it's an online assessment and tutoring service you can access from any Internet-connected computer. ALEKS will itself teach you how to use it, and ALEKS Corporation will provide you with full technical support in case you have any difficulties getting it to work on your computer.

ALEKS is much more than a placement exam/assessment - it is a tutorial and preparatory program. Your success in chemistry at ISU will be directly related to the amount of effort that you put forth. The more that you master on ALEKS, the better prepared you will be.

It is imperative that you start the ALEKS Chemistry Assessment at least 4 weeks before your scheduled orientation date. We recommend starting in April or early May. It is strongly recommended that you read through this entire page prior to starting ALEKS.

Logon instructions
For technical help with ALEKS and the ALEKS plug-in
Important information about ALEKS
Tips for taking the ALEKS initial assessment
Getting started in ALEKS Learning Mode:
Tips for getting the most out of Learning Mode:
If things go wrong...
Customer Support for ALEKS Chemistry Questions regarding introductory chemistry courses at ISU

Logon instructions:

  1. Logon to AccessPlus at Supported browsers: Internet Explorer 7.0+ or Google Chrome 4.0+. Do NOT use Firefox.
  2. Click on the "Student" tab.
  3. Click on the link "ALEKS Chem Asmnt"
  4. Click the "continue" to install the ALEKS plug-in to work with your browser. After installation of the plug-in, you will need to close your browser and relogin on AccessPlus. You will only need to install the plug-in one time on your computer. See below for contact information for ALEKS.
  5. After a quick tutorial on using ALEKS, you'll take an individualized online assessment, covering high-school math, algebra, and chemistry. It's not timed, but it will probably end up taking you about an hour to an hour and a half. It's impossible to say ahead of time exactly how many questions will be on this assessment, or what they'll be like, because ALEKS chooses new questions based on your answers to the previous questions. That is, it adapts to your particular state of knowledge.
  6. After the assessment, ALEKS will report its findings to you. You'll be able to see what areas of math or chemistry you should review or learn to get ready for chemistry at ISU.
  7. Assuming you have some studying to do, you'll enter what's called "Learning Mode" in ALEKS. In this mode, ALEKS will work with you on problems that hone your skill in the topics the ISU chemistry faculty have picked out as most critical to your early success here.
  8. As you master each topic, ALEKS will open up more advanced topics for you to study, until you reach your needed level of preparedness. The more that you complete, the better prepared you will be for chemistry.
  9. The following table shows what learning objectives must be met for each of the chemistry courses. Your admission letter should let you know which chemistry course is appropriate for your major. Keep in mind, the more objectives that you master (regardless of the chemistry course you will take), the better prepared you will be.
ChemistryClass Learning Objective
  Chem 50 Qualifier Chem 163 Qualifier Chem 167 & 177 Qualifier Chem 201 - Advanced Chem
50 Yes      
163 Yes Yes    
167 Yes Yes Yes  
177 Yes Yes Yes  
201 Yes Yes Yes Yes

For a listing and description of all ISU chemistry courses, go to:

For technical help with ALEKS and the ALEKS plug-in:

ALEKS Customer Support hours are Monday to Friday, 6 AM to 9 PM Central Time.

Email support:
Phone: (714) 619-7090
Fax: (714) 245-7190

Be prepared to tell the Customer Support Representative the following information:

  1. You are a student at Iowa State University and working on chemistry preparation and assessment.
  2. The "operating system" of your computer (e.g. Windows, MacOS, OSX).
  3. The browser you're using (e.g. IE, Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari).
  4. In as much detail, exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred, and what the computer did in response.

Important information about ALEKS

The chemistry faculty and advisors at Iowa State will have access to the results of your work on ALEKS during advising, and will use that information to help you select the best general chemistry course for you this fall.

The biggest advantage of the ALEKS approach, you'll find, is that it is completely individualized. You'll be reviewing only those topics in which you yourself need help. You won't be wasting time on topics you've already fully mastered.

But we'll also warn you: this may not be an fully enjoyable process.

ALEKS is, frankly, like a merciless pre-season training coach. It will train you and drill you on solving chem problems until you can do them in your sleep, correct to the last decimal place. It will even go back and re-assess you on earlier material, from time to time, just to make sure you've still got permanent mastery of it. It can be tough! So keep in mind two things:

  • Don't try to cram all your ALEKS work into a short period of time, like two or three days. That's like a couch potato trying to run 500 miles in one week to train for a marathon. It just won't work. Plan on spending about an hour or two each day on ALEKS, with plenty of rest in between sessions.
  • Get started as early in the summer as you can. That will give you plenty of time to get everything done at a reasonable pace.

The good news is that we know your "pre-season" work will really pay off this fall. You'll find yourself with complete command of all the critical skills you'll need in the first few weeks of chemistry class, and that will let you hit the ground running at Iowa State.

Tips for taking the ALEKS initial assessment:

One you get ALEKS working, the first thing that happens is ALEKS gives you a quick little tutorial on how to enter answers in ALEKS. Then you'll start your initial assessment. Here are some tips for getting the best results from the initial assessment:

  1. Take it seriously. ALEKS studies your answers very carefully, and draws a lot of conclusions from each one. If you make careless or silly mistakes, ALEKS will almost certainly conclude you know a lot less math and chemistry than you do. That will be very painful!
  2. You'll be assigned lots of topics to review that you already know.
  3. Take your time solving problems. At least 2 or 3 minutes, sometimes 5 or 10. Double check your work. Examine it for typos, sign and unit errors, things you might have accidentally left off or forgotten to erase. Remember, ALEKS is a dumb computer program, not a human being.
  4. ALEKS doesn't have the imagination needed to guess what you meant to say, if what you actually said isn't quite right. It will just mindlessly mark you wrong.
  5. Don't tire yourself out. An ALEKS assessment isn't timed. You can take as long as you like -- you can even spread the assessment out over several days. And you can pause anytime. Just log out (click EXIT). ALEKS will remember exactly where you were, and put you right back there when you log in again. If you find yourself getting tired, frustrated, angry -- JUST LOG OUT. Go get something to eat or drink, relax, talk, read. Don't risk an expensive careless mistake by continuing when you're not at your best.
  6. Don't cheat yourself by cheating. Don't look up answers on the Internet or a textbook. Don't ask an older friend for help. There's no point to this! Your initial assessment isn't going to get any kind of grade. It's just a way to find out what exactly YOU need to review. If you're not fully honest with ALEKS, it won't assign you the right topics to study. You'll either end up bored (if you get topics that are too easy) or frustrated (if you get topics that are too hard). Either way, you're bound to spend more time, ultimately, than if you give ALEKS the most honest possible picture of what you know and what you don't.
  7. Don't be surprised when you can't solve problems. Remember, ALEKS is looking for the outer limits of what you know. That's only possible if it asks you at least one or two problems that it's pretty sure you won't be able to do. So expect that. If you think there's any chance you can solve a problem, it's best to give it a shot. But if you really have no clue, there's a button marked "I haven't learned this yet." Click there to tell ALEKS you really don't know this topic, and it will go on to the next problem.

Getting started in ALEKS Learning Mode:

After you complete the assessment, ALEKS will show you your "Pie."

This is the central ALEKS report and navigation tool. It's a pie chart of all the topics in the ISU ALEKS course, arranged by color-coded subject area. Fat slices have a lot of topics in them, and narrower slices have fewer. The darker shading on each slice tells you how much of that slice YOU have mastered.

Your goal in ALEKS Learning Mode is to add topics to this Pie, which will make the dark shading move outward.

To get started learning how to solve problems in a topic, move your mouse over some slice of the Pie, opening up the menu, and select a topic. Not ALL of the topics in a slice that you don't know will be available for selection. That's because topics are only available for selection if you're prepared for them -- if you've mastered all the pre-requisite skills. As you master more topics, more topics will become available.

Topics in the ALEKS course have been divided into five major sections, based roughly on the general chemistry class you'd like to take this fall:

  1. Chem 50 Qualifier. These are the basic math topics you'd need to have mastered to take Chem 50 successfully.
  2. Chem 163 Qualifier. These are the basic math and chem topics you'd need to have mastered to take Chem 163 successfully.
  3. Chem 167 & 177 Qualifier. You want to master these topics to qualify for Chem 167 and 177.
  4. Chem 201 Advanced Chem. These are topics for students who want to take an advanced general chemistry class, or want a tip-top grade in the regular classes.

Now, if the results of your initial assessment show that you do not yet have mastery of all the topics in the most basic section, the Chem 50 Qualifier, then your Pie will be "locked" onto the goal of doing so. What that means is you'll only be able to work on topics that are part of this section, or topics that are pre-requisites. A dotted white line will appear on each slice of your Pie, showing you how far the shading has to go to complete this section.

Once you master all the topics in the Chem 50 Qualifier section, you'll be given another assessment to test your retention of this basic material. After you complete this assessment, your Pie will be "unlocked," and you will have the choice of working on any topic for which you're prepared in any of the four remaining sections.

Click the link underneath the Pie to see a complete list of the topics in each section, sorted according to whether you've mastered the topic or not, and color-coded to help you find the topic in the Pie.

If you place out of the Chem 50 Qualifier entirely, through the initial assessment, then your Pie will already be unlocked, and you can get started immediately in any of the other four sections.

In addition to the listing of topics completed and yet to be mastered under the Pie, you'll also find a record of your percentage mastery of each section in the ALEKS Gradebook, accessible by clicking on the Gradebook link above the Pie.

Note: if you forget topics in the Chem 50 Qualifier section between when you learn them and when you are re-assessed for mastery you will need to re-study them. Do not ignore any of these "zombie" problems (those you thought you'd killed off, but which have come back to life). If you didn't retain mastery of these basic skills, you really must practice them more, and ALEKS won't let you go on to more advanced topics until you do.

In fact, knowing that the zombie problems cover topics you may find it hard to remember, do yourself a favor by using the ALEKS "Review" tab (on the toolbar) every now and then. In the Review tab you can do a problem or two in any topic you've mastered. It doesn't affect your grade, or add or subtract topics from your Pie. But experience tells us students who regularly do a problem or two from old topics, just to keep it fresh, have much better final results.

Tips for getting the most out of Learning Mode:

To demonstrate mastery of a topic, you must select it from the Pie and complete several problems in the topic. The exact number of problems you have to do depends on your answers. If you get each problem exactly right, you may have to do as few as 2 or 3 problems.

On the other hand, if you start getting problems wrong, ALEKS will assign more problems to ensure you have mastery. ALEKS will tell you at each step how many more problems you must get right to get the topic added to your Pie.

If you don't know how to do a problem, click the "Explain" button at the bottom of the problem. ALEKS will tell you how to do the problem.

If you need more help while reading the Explanation, you can use the ALEKSPedia, a built-in FAQ-style explanation of chemistry vocabulary, techniques, and concepts. There's a direct link to the ALEKSPedia from the ALEKS toolbar, above the Pie. Also, within an Explanation, you'll usually see lots of hyperlinks on words or phrases about which the ALEKSPedia has more information.

Make use of the Explain button and the ALEKSPedia if you don't understand something! Remember that wrong answers are costly in ALEKS: they cause you to have more problems assigned. ALEKS holds you accountable and enforces the mastering of topics.

If you ever need help using the ALEKS interface to enter an answer, click the blue HELP button in the interface. That will bring up a list of tutorials that show you how to enter various kinds of answers.

If things go wrong...

ALEKS is a computer program, and it operates over the Internet. Part of it operates on the ALEKS servers, in California, but part of it also operates on your browser and your computer, wherever you are.

With this many working parts, it's sometimes possible for things to go wrong, either a little bit or a lot, in confusing ways. Here are some things that could happen, and what to do about them:

  • Your browser or computer freezes up, won't display things correctly, et cetera. This is almost always a problem located within your browser. The best thing to try immediately is to quit the browser and restart it, or if the computer is not acting right, reboot the computer. That will start everything fresh.
  • Don't worry about your work in ALEKS! ALEKS saves what you do as you go along, so when you log back into ALEKS you'll be just where you left off, even if you were right in the middle of an assessment or tutorial. To prevent problems like this, it's often wise not to be asking the browser to do too much else while you're working on ALEKS.
  • Don't have 12 other tabs open, with streaming videos or Flash games in them. This is much more likely to lead to a browser freeze.
  • You can't seem to get any response from ALEKS, for example you submit an answer and ALEKS doesn't respond for a long time. This can happen because of Internet problems, and these are usually at the level of your local Internet Service Provider (or sometimes with a WiFi connection if you're using one). It is almost never a problem with the Internet itself, or with the ALEKS servers, which are very large servers with dedicated high-bandwidth connections to the Internet. Again, restart the browser, but also check your Internet connection to other sites.
  • ALEKS grades you wrong and you clearly, absolutely, 100% certainly were right! Now, even though ALEKS has already had tens of thousands of chemistry students using it, this is still possible. "Possible" like it's possible for snow to fall on September 30 in Ames, mind you, but possible nonetheless.

The important point, however, is that if you want the fastest response to this kind of problem; don't write your professor, or anyone at Iowa State.

So cut out the middleman, and just complain directly to ALEKS! Go to and describe your problem in as much detail as you can. It's particularly important that you tell the ALEKS team your ALEKS login and the date and time of the problem, so that they can go back into the ALEKS server logs and see exactly what you did and what ALEKS did, and diagnose the problem.

Even better, if possible, send complaints from within ALEKS. Click on the Message Center icon (the envelope) in the upper right of the ALEKS screen, and compose a message to ALEKS Customer Support. Check the little box at the bottom of the form that says "Attach the page on which I was working," so that, again, Customer Support can zero in on exactly what you and ALEKS did, to find the problem. You'll get a response quickly, usually within 24 hours, except on weekends.

Meanwhile, ask for another problem on the topic, or even go back to the Pie and work on some other topic entirely.

Customer support for ALEKS chemistry

ALEKS Customer Support hours are Monday to Friday, 6 AM to 9 PM Central Time.

Email support:
Phone: (714) 619-7090
Fax: (714) 245-7190

Be prepared to tell the Customer Support Representative the following information:

  1. You are a student at Iowa State University and working on chemistry preparation and assessment.
  2. The "operating system" of your computer (e.g. Windows, MacOS, OSX).
  3. The browser you're using (e.g. IE, Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari).
  4. In as much detail, exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred, and what the computer did in response.

Questions regarding introductory chemistry courses at ISU

If you have a question about how to interpret your ALEKS score, what learning objectives you need to master, or about the chemistry courses offered at Iowa State University, please email or call 515/294-7815.