Transitional and Remedial Programs

College-level mathematics is a fast-paced and demanding subject, and it is unfortunately true that many NIU students do not succeed in their mathematics courses. In order to improve students' success in our courses, we often recommend or require that students work through additional courses to prepare them for the College Algebra course (MATH 110) which is a prerequisite for many other math courses. Here are some frequently-asked questions about this program. If you have other questions, consult the math department (1-815-753-0566 or

Q: What kinds of transition courses are offered at NIU?
A: NIU has entered into a cooperative agreement with nearby Kishwaukee Community College to enable KCC to offer Intermediate Algebra and Basic Algebra courses. The classes are held on the NIU campus, supplies are in the NIU bookstore, and registration is handled by the NIU course registration system. (The course labels are KCMA 098 and KCMA 096 respectively.) These courses are designed to prepare the student for our College Algebra course, MATH 110. They are similar to courses with these names at other community colleges.

There is a separate track of courses (MATH 108 and MATH 109) offered by NIU to specially-admitted students only (i.e., those admitted through the CHANCE program). This web page does not directly address that program, although most of the comments are relevant for that program too.

Q: Who are these courses for?
A: Every student who feels that his or her high school mathematics training is insufficient should consider taking such a course. The subject matter is comparable to an Algebra II course in high school. If

  • you did not take such a course, or
  • you did not do well in your high school course, or
  • it has been several years since your high school course, or
  • you feel your high school course was inadequate for your present needs,
then you should take one of these courses before taking any NIU mathematics course.

The students who take such a course prior to taking NIU math courses have a higher success rate in the NIU courses than those who do not take preparatory courses.

Q: Am I required to take such a course?
A: That depends. There is a university-wide mathematics requirement for all bachelors degree candidates. For almost all students, that means you will need to take an NIU math course. The exceptions are:

  • those with an A.A. or A.S. degree from an Illinois community college
  • those with transfer credit in an NIU-approved general-education math course elsewhere
  • those who pass a proficiency test at NIU
  • those with AP Calculus credit
It is worth noting that the last two apply to very few students. So it is very likely that you must take an NIU math course to graduate. There is a list of specific courses which will meet this requirement.

Now, if your major does not require any specific mathematics course, you may wish to take our MATH 101. That's the case for all students in the college of Visual and Performing Arts, and for most B.A. candidates in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Pass MATH 101 and you need not take any more math at NIU. Any regularly-admitted NIU undergraduate should be able to take this course, and most who take it pass it. (It's not an easy course, but it focuses on mathematical skills most likely to be useful to all college students.) You do NOT need to take a community college course before taking MATH 101, although you ARE expected to have mastered Intermediate Algebra and high-school Geometry.

Nearly identical remarks apply to students in Elementary Education, who must take MATH 201. You are not required to take a community-college course first, but you will be expected to have a good facility with high-school mathematics during this course. If you feel unready, a community-college course may help you.

On the other hand, the majority of NIU students must take one or more specific math classes for their major. This applies to all students in the college of Business, all students in the college of Engineering, most students in Health/Human Science and Education, and all B.S. candidates in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences. These programs all require at least one of MATH 155, 206, 210, 211, or 229 and all these courses have prerequisites. If you are planning any of these majors, you will have to complete the prerequisite course with a grade of C or higher, unless you can be placed directly into the course with our Mathematics Placement Exam.

  • If you need MATH 229, you need either an "A-level" placement or successful completion of MATH 155
  • If you need MATH 155, 206, 210, or 211, you need either a "B-level" placement or successful completion of MATH 110
  • If you need MATH 110, you need either a "C-level" placement, or successful completion of a community college Intermediate Algebra course.
Therefore, all students in these majors MUST take our placement exam before attempting these courses.

If your placement level is "D-level" or "E-level", you cannot register for MATH 110 until successfully completing an Intermediate Algebra course. It need not be through Kishwaukee College --- you might want to look for a school more convenient for you (here's the KCMA098 Articulation list) -- and you may do it online. But if you take the course somewhere else besides the KCMA program, you will have to bring a grade report to the Math office showing a grade of C or higher before you may register for MATH 110.

Please note that if your placement level is "D" or "E" and you are planning on one of these majors, this means you must take at least three, and possibly more, math courses before graduating, and they do get progressively more complex. If this does not sound appealing to you, you may wish to investigate other majors with fewer quantitative aspects. The KCMA classes will not fulfill NIU's General Education requirements, nor will MATH 110. You will have to be fairly dedicated to your major in order to succeed.

Summary: you are not required to take a KCMA course if your math skills are at the level required for your major, but you are required to take them if your math skills and career aspirations require that you take MATH 110.

Q: I had this material in high school! Look at my transcript!
A: Almost all incoming NIU students have this material on their high school transcript, and quite a few of them have had honors courses or advanced material like calculus. And still, more than 20% of our regularly-admitted freshmen -- including many of those with advanced coursework behind them -- are asked to take a community college course. Our concern is not with your past but with your future: we want to make sure that you have the skills you need before you take MATH 110. Whatever you studied in the past is not relevant if, when asked some basic algebra questions, you can't confidently give the answers now.

There are many reasons why your high school courses may not be enough. For example, many students took the courses but have forgotten the material, or never really learned it except at a level of moving symbols around. In order to do well in MATH 110, you must understand what those symbols represent, and why they can be manipulated in certain ways. Taking a refresher course such as the KCMA courses will give you a chance to be more comfortable with the algebra at this level.

It is possible, of course, that your math placement score is giving us poor guidance, but our next most reliable statistic is not the high school transcript but rather the ACT (or SAT) mathematics subscore. As a rule of thumb, ACT math scores of about 26 or higher are needed for entry into Calculus, scores in the 23-26 range are typical for MATH 155 through MATH 211, and scores in the 21-23 range are common in MATH 110. We view an ACT math subscore of 20 or less as clear corroboration of a placement into the KCMA program.

From time to time students report that they "really know" the material but "just don't test well". Even if this claim were valid, it is not really helpful for placement into our courses, since in order for a student to do well in MATH 110, he or she must score well on that course's exams, which are very similar in format to the placement test.

Q: Why won't the math department at least let me try MATH 110 without going through KCMA 098? I'll work hard and I know I'll succeed!
A: Good for you! That's the kind of determination you'll need. However, our experience has been that among students with weak placement-test scores, at least half are unable to finish MATH 110 with a C or better. And in general they all intended on the first day of the semester to do well and move on. So good intentions seem not to be enough if your preparation is imperfect. This is the situation we are trying to prevent. You'll be better served if you spend a semester in KCMA and then do well in MATH 110, rather than spending two semesters taking and retaking MATH 110 when you're not ready.

It's also true that the math department makes resources available to students to help them succeed --- mostly the time and attention of your teachers and tutors. But these resources are limited, and it is not a good investment of these resources to expect the teachers to give so much help that they have essentially delivered a private version of KCMA to each student who needs it. By all means, take advantage of the help we make available, but please recognize that our faculty time is not unlimited, and it makes more sense to group the students who need help into KCMA courses. These policies are similar to those at comparable institutions.

Q: How do I sign up for KCMA courses?
A: You may use the ordinary TRACS registration system on the phone or on the web. The KCMA courses are listed after the MATH courses; each has its own reference number.

Although the course is delivered at NIU and registration can take place through NIU, this is a Kishwaukee College class. You will be billed directly by Kishwaukee College. You will get a grade report from them, and these courses will not appear on your NIU transcript, nor will you receive credit towards an NIU degree.

If your NIU placement test level is "E": you will not be able to sign up for KCMA 098 directly. You should enroll in KCMA 090. On the first day of class, the KCMA 090 students will be given another placement test designed by Kishwaukee college which is fine-tuned to determine whether you would be best served by KCMA 098 or their Basic Algebra course, KCMA 096. Entrance into KCMA 098 is the prerogative of Kishwaukee College, not NIU. Passing KCMA 096 is NOT sufficient to enroll in NIU's MATH 110; you must have a C or better in an Intermediate Algebra course, not a Basic Algebra course.

You may wish to direct questions about the delivery of the KCMA courses to the staff at Kishwaukee College. They have set up a web page for the course here:

Q: Can I take such a course before I come to NIU?
A: Yes, this is an excellent idea. If you are accepted to NIU during your senior year of high school and take our math placement exam in the Spring or early Summer, you will have time to enroll in an Intermediate Algebra course at your local community college for the summer term. When you arrive at NIU, bring your grade report showing a "C" or better to the Math office and you will be eligible to take MATH 110. Due to space limitations, we cannot guarantee that you will be able to enroll in the Fall, but if we must turn you away, please register for your NIU math course (MATH 110, or MATH 101 if appropriate) in the Spring term.

If you wish to shop around for a place to take such a course, you might want to look at this collection of Illinois colleges.

Make sure that you use your pre-NIU training to become fluent in the algebra. Remember -- you're taking this course only to gain the expertise needed for your next math class; make sure your course gives you these skills!

Q: Will you hold a place for me in MATH 110 while I finish the KCMA course?
A: No. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. While you are still enrolled in a KCMA course, you will be ineligible to register for MATH 110. As soon as the term is over and your KCMA grade is reported to NIU, you may register for MATH 110 where space is available. It is almost always true that space is available in Spring and Summer sections of MATH 110, but not always in the Fall (depending on enrollment patterns).

If you take the course elsewhere, bring to the math office a copy of your transcript or grade report showing completion of an Intermediate Algebra course with a grade of C or higher; we can immediately enter the codes into the registration system which will enable you to register for MATH 110. Act quickly and you increase your chance of finding open seats in your preferred section of MATH 110.

Q: Can I count the KCMA credit-hours towards the 12 hour total necessary to maintain full-time status at NIU?
A: Legal restrictions appear to prevent you from doing that, but we are trying to find a work-around. Certainly if possible we would prefer to enable students to take only 9 semester-hours credit from NIU while they take a 3-credit course from KCMA so that they have ample time to study; a 15-hour combined load is often too much. For more up-to-date information please contact the Math Department or the Office of the Associate Provost.

Note that if you do enroll for 12 credit-hours of NIU courses plus 3 hours of a KCMA course simultaneously, you will be carrying the same load as a typical full-time NIU undergraduate. (A person who wishes to complete the 120 credits needed for graduation in 8 semesters of enrollment will have to average 15 credits per semester.) So you should not view your 15-hour total load as extraordinary.

NIU is pleased with the overall effectiveness of the KCMA program, and encourages all students to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Remember, your sole reason to take the KCMA courses should be to learn the material needed for MATH 110 at NIU. Your Kishwaukee College instructors understand your goals and do a good job preparing students for MATH 110. Work closely with them and, when you finish, sign up for NIU's MATH 110 as soon as possible afterwards so that the material is still fresh in your mind.

If you have questions about how the KCMA courses mesh with the NIU courses, contact the NIU Math department at the addresses below. For questions about billing, scheduling, grades, and so on, please contact Kishwuakee College directly at 1-815-825-2086 (TTY: 1-815-825-2457) or consult their website,

Last modified: 09/19/2016 (djg)