Placement and Advising

General Information:  Students enter Amherst College with a wide variety of prior experience with and preparation in chemistry.  One common factor we have found is that college chemistry in general, and chemistry at Amherst College in particular, takes a broader view of the subject and makes greater use of concepts from mathematics and physics than the vast majority of pre-college approaches to the material.  This includes AP, IB, and A-level programs.  Consequently, our 100 level courses are the best starting points for study in our department.  We promise that you will be asked to consider material in new ways, even if you have seen it before while also providing the support necessary for success even if it is the first encounter for you.

Information for Advisors and Advisees

Please click HERE for information regarding Chemistry Placement that will aid in advising, both during first-year orientation or for pre-registration during the semester.  If you have any questions regarding Chemistry Placement after reading this information, please contact Professor Mark D. Marshall (x2006 or 

Please note that Chemistry 155 is not offered in the spring semester.

Please read the following information carefully

For the vast majority of Amherst College students, Chemistry 151 or Chemistry 155 followed by Chemistry 161 are the appropriate first courses in the department:  Placement into Chemistry 151 or 155 is based upon several factors indicating prior preparation and ability in quantitative disciplines.  Since the defining features of Chemistry 155 are the emphasis on the physical principles that form the foundation for topics typically covered in introductory college chemistry and the level of mathematical rigor employed in examining them, performance on the AP chemistry exam, or even having taken AP chemistry at all, does not by itself provide sufficient guidance.  In general, students whom we advise to register for Chemistry 155 have some combination (meaning more than just one) of the following: strong preparation in high school chemistry, a math SAT1 score above 750 or an ACT/M score of 34 or greater, a SAT2 Math2 score above 750, a score of 4 or above on the calculus BC advanced placement test, a score of 4 or above on the chemistry advanced placement test, or other evidence of very strong quantitative aptitude and background.  It is our experience that scores on the SAT2 Chem test are not particularly useful in determining the appropriate choice between Chemistry 151 and 155.

Advanced Placement:  In accordance with Amherst College policy, advanced placement credit is not granted, but extremely well-prepared students may receive placement out of either Chemistry 151/155, Chemistry 161, or in rare cases, both.  It is sometimes the case that a student is qualified to place out of Chemistry 161 rather than Chemistry 151/155.  These decisions are made on an individual basis, taking into account the student's background and performance on an examination administered by the Department, covering the material of Chemistry 151 or 161.  Before considering whether or not to ask to take the placement exams in either Chemistry 151 or 161, consider the following:  Students who have placed out of one of these courses in the past have come to us with some combination of the following: a math SAT1 score well above 750, a chemistry SAT II score well above 750 plus a chemistry advanced placement score of 5 or other evidence of superior college-level preparation.  Placement out of both courses is very unusual and has been recommended when a student comes to us with an exceptional chemistry background such as placement in the International Chemistry Olympiad or extensive college level course work.   If you think you fit this profile and wish advanced placement, speak to a chemistry department faculty member when you arrive on campus.  These considerations regarding advanced placement apply equally well to students with A level or IB diplomas. 

Effect on requirements for the major: Students wishing to major in chemistry who place out of introductory courses are still required to take eight chemistry courses at the college.  In order to complete this requirement, it may be necessary to take a special topics course at Amherst College or an advanced chemistry course at one of the other Five Colleges.

Students considering a career in medicine: It is essential to consult the Health Professions advisor regarding the implications of placement out of chemistry courses that are required for admission to medical school.

Students with college credit: Occasionally, entering students have credit from previous college chemistry courses.  These students should speak with the Chemistry Department Chair regarding appropriate placement into courses and requirements for the major.