Proficiency and Placement Exam Policies

SIPA provides “proficiency” examinations for certain subject areas (not including Economics), which enable students to waive out of certain courses if students pass the exam. For Economics, SIPA offers a “placement” examination, which allows students to “place into” higher level Economics coursework, as described more fully below.  

Passing a proficiency or placement exam does not grant a student any credit towards their degree. Proficiency and placement exams are generally offered at the beginning of each term, and a student may only take a proficiency exam once (this includes instances when a student begins a proficiency exam but does not finish the exam). While students are strongly encouraged to take proficiency exams at the beginning of their first semester, the economics placement exam can only be taken at the beginning of the Fall or Spring semester of a student’s first year.

After completing these exams, students receive notification indicating “pass” or “fail”. The pass/fail designation is given upon careful review by the instructor marking the exam, and that decision is final and not subject to appeal (because these exams are administered as a courtesy for proficiency/placement purposes only, students do not receive access to their completed exams). 

You can view dates of upcoming exams and sign-up on the Proficiency Exams Guidelines page

Each semester, exams are offered for the following subjects and languages:

  1. Economics Placement Exam
    ​-  SIPA U6300 Microeconomics for International & Public Affairs/SIPA U6301 Macroeconomics for International & Public Affairs
    -  SIPA U6400 Microeconomic Analysis for International & Public Affairs/SIPA U6401 Macroeconomic Analysis for International & Public Affairs
    -  All students are required to fulfill 6 credits of Economics coursework as part of the SIPA degree, regardless of academic or professional background (and even if they pass the Economics placement exam). If a student feels they have sufficient knowledge of Economics and would like to place out of the core Economics courses in order to take more advanced coursework to fulfill their 6 credit Economics requirement, they may take the Economics placement exam. The Economics placement exam consists of a Micro section and a Macro section. Students may elect to take one or both of the sections, but students must complete all Economics placement exams/sections within their first two semesters. 
  2. Quantitative Analysis Proficiency Exams
    -  SIPA U6500 Quantitative Analysis for International Public Affairs
    -  SIPA U6501 Quantitative Analysis II for International Public Affairs  
  3. Accounting Proficiency Exam
    -  SIPA U6200 Accounting for International Public Affairs
  4. Language Proficiency Exams

    - SIPA offers proficiency exams in French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Information about SIPA proficiency exams can be found here.

    - SIPA language proficiency exams consist of two parts: written and conversational. The written part takes 2 hours and consists of grammar, translation, vocabulary and reading comprehension (at the level comparable to an undergraduate Intermediate II course). If you pass the written part of the exam you will be contacted by email to schedule the oral exam.

    - The language proficiency exams offered in these languages by SIPA are separate from the placement examinations offered by language departments.

    - Placement exams in French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish do not fulfill SIPA’s language requirement. Information about placement examinations and registration for classes is available on respective departmental websites for French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

    - For information regarding how to demonstrate proficiency in languages other than these listed please contact sipa_osa@columbia.edu.