Sixty percent or higher on math diagnostic is required to pass out of 18.01

Math department administrator says historically math diagnostic is better predictor of student outcomes than AP exam

This year, in order to pass out of 18.01 (Calculus I), students who earned a five on the AP Calculus BC exam (or an equivalent score on an international exam) also needed to receive a passing grade of at least 60 percent on the math diagnostic.

In the past, the diagnostic was used only for physics placement and not for math, so only students who needed to take 8.01 (Physics I) were required to take the exam. 

Students can also receive credit for 18.01 by passing the Advanced Standing Exam (ASE) for the course. Those that earned a five on the AP Calculus BC exam but did not pass the math diagnostic or the ASE were placed into 18.01A (a version of Calculus I that extends into IAP). 

“We found historically that some students who received a ‘5’ on the Calculus BC exam did not have a strong grip on the fundamentals — especially of pre-calculus material (algebra, logs, trigs, etc.) — to do as well as we would like in MIT subjects,” Barbara Peskin PhD ’80, academic administrator of the mathematics department, wrote in an email to The Tech.  

“When we looked at the data, we found that the math diagnostic was a better predictor of which students would do poorly,” Peskin continued.  

Additionally, the physics and mathematics departments revised the math diagnostic to fulfill its new objective, Peskin wrote.

Out of the more than 700 first-year students who received a five on the AP Calculus BC exam or the equivalent, only 7 percent failed to receive credit for 18.01 based on their performance on the diagnostic. 

Andrew Motz ‘23 said in an interview with The Tech, “It was a wake-up call to basic math.” Motz felt that the diagnostic covered many concepts taught prior to calculus that he had not recently reviewed. Motz succeeded in passing the math diagnostic and received 18.01 credit.

Additionally, Peskin wrote that the mathematics department considered requiring all students, regardless of performance on the AP exam, to pass the 18.01 ASE in order to receive credit, comparable to the biology and chemistry GIRs, which cannot be replaced with AP scores. 

About a dozen students who did earn a five on the AP exam or the equivalent chose to sit for the 18.01 (Calculus 1) Advanced Standing Exam. Of those students, the ones who passed the ASE also received a passing score on the math diagnostic.

Update 6/8/2020: This article was corrected to state that Peskin received her PhD in 1980, not 1990.