Core Competency Exams

Core competency exams are optional and do not result in course credit. They allow you to fulfill a requirement for oral communication, English or mathematics. A passing score reduces the number of general education hours, but does not reduce the number of hours required for a degree.


Oral Communication Foundational Studies Competency

The oral communication core competency requirement may be satisfied by passing COMS 100, by transfer credit or by passing the oral Communication Foundational Studies Competency Exam.

A passing score on the exam fulfills your requirement for COMS 100. The exam may be taken only once, and you are advised to take this exam at least one year before graduating from NIU.

The Oral Communication Foundational Studies Competency exam is a two-part exam that tests competency in college level listening and speaking skills. Part one is a listening skills test. Students will listen to a persuasive speech and are asked 20 multiple choice questions. Students who demonstrate college level competence in listening and pass part one are then required to prepare and present a six to eight minute extemporaneous persuasive speech as part two. Topics will be provided and students will be evaluated by experienced faculty who regularly teach COMS 100.
To take this exam, you must be a student attending NIU. You cannot concurrently be enrolled in COMS 100 and register for or take the Oral Communication Foundational Studies Competency Exam. This exam may be taken only once. You are advised to take this exam at least one year before graduating from NIU.

Students with exceptional listening and speaking skills who wish to attempt the exam are directed to contact the Department of Communication early in their first semester at NIU.

This exam is offered two times each semester (September and October for fall and February and March for spring). New testing dates are posted on the department website at the beginning of each semester.


Writing Composition Foundational Studies Competency (WCFSC)

The English Writing Foundational Studies competency requirement may be satisfied by passing ENGL 103 and 203, or ENGL 204 (if recommended for placement into ENGL 204), by transfer credit, by Advanced Placement (AP) credit or by passing the Writing Composition Foundational Studies Competency exam (parts one and two).

The Writing Composition Foundational Studies Competency Exam is an optional two-part exam. Incoming first-year NIU students may take the exam before they begin college-level course work. Transfer students may take the exam at any point before enrolling in first-year composition courses at NIU.

First-year students with ACT combined English-writing subscores of 30 or greater should register for ENGL 204.  First-year students with SAT evidence-based reading and writing exam of 660 or greater should register for ENGL 204. 

For tests beginning in September 2016, first-year students with ACT ELA scores of 30 or greater should register for ENGL 204.

Part one consists of a one-hour writing exercise resulting in one of the following three options:

  • placement into ENGL 103
  • placement into ENGL 204, a one-semester advanced composition course that satisfies the Writing Composition Foundational Studies competency requirement
  • an invitation to take part two
Part two of the exam consists of a comprehensive reading/writing examination. No special preparation is needed for the two-and-a-half hour, timed essay. For this exam, you read an argumentative essay, draw conclusions from that essay and use those conclusions as a basis for writing an essay of your own. This exam is only by invitation dependent upon results of part one.

You are eligible to take this exam if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • your ACT composite scores or ACT English score is 22 or above
  • your SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Exam score is 550 or above
  • you have excelled in writing in high school
This exam is typically offered on three Saturdays during the spring semester and throughout summer testing months (June through August). Online registration for this exam will be available during the testing months.

Mathematics Core Competency

Students may satisfy core competency in mathematics in several ways including:

  • obtaining a "C" or better in
    • Math 229, Calculus I
    • MATH 211, Calculus for Business and Social Science
    • MATH 210, Finite Mathematics
    • MATH 206, Introductory Discrete Mathematics
    • MATH 155, Trigonometry and Elementary Functions
  • by passing Math 101, Core Competency in Mathematics
  • by transfer credit
  • by Advanced Placement (AP) credit
  • by CLEP Subject Exam credit
  • by passing the Mathematics Core Competency Exam

If you already have credit in Stat 208, Basic Statistics, additional options for meeting the mathematics competency requirement may be available to you. Speak with your program's academic advisor or counselor for more details.

In addition to basic skills and facts, the examination covers:

  • the understanding of elementary probability and statistics
  • the understanding of logically correct arguments and equivalent statements
  • the demonstration of strategies and techniques in problem solving
  • the use of elementary algebra and geometry in problem solving
  • the demonstration of ability to estimate, approximate and judge the reasonableness of answers to problems

You will be given 90 minutes of writing time. The examination is multiple choice. The minimum passing score is 26 of the 40 items answered correctly.

The use of a non-programmable calculator is permitted. The Mathematical Core Competency Examination may be taken only once.

If your intended program requires MATH 229, MATH 211, MATH 210, MATH 206 or MATH 155, you will be required to first take the Math Placement Exam.
You should speak with your academic advisor or counselor to determine the best approach for you to satisify the mathematics core competency requirements. If the Math Core Competency exam is deemed the best option by your advisor, you may register online to take the test.