Navigating the General Education Requirements

All students entering UW-Madison as freshmen or undergraduate transfer students must satisfy the General Education Requirements. Students should always check with their advisors to see if their school or college has additional requirements that go beyond the basic ones, or whether specific programs will require them to fulfill requirements with specific courses or in a particular order.

The fundamental goal of these requirements is to produce an individual that has attributes appropriate for a university-educated person, such as competence in communication, critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to investigate issues raised by living in a culturally diverse society, that has been cultivated by breadth of study across the humanities and arts, social studies, biological and physical sciences.

The basic General Education Requirements are described in the Guide, under “General Education Requirements.” Schools and colleges may require students to meet these requirements in a particular way. The best place to find this information is by contacting your advisor, looking at school/college advising resources, and by reviewing the Guide.


Each student comes to UW–Madison with a unique set of skills and academic preparation. Placement exams provide students and their academic advisors with tools that help determine in which courses students should enroll. Placement tests are required of all incoming freshman and some transfer students depending on their prior college-level course work.  The Office of Admissions and Recruitment notifies students after admission about which placement tests are required. These tests help to ensure appropriate placement in courses so that students are prepared for success at UW-Madison.

Placement tests for Math and English help advisors determine which University General Quantitative Reasoning and/or Communication courses students should take or if the student may satisfy these requirements by demonstrated proficiency in these areas. As a result, nearly all first-year and many transfer students are required to take the following examinations:

  • UW Math Placement Exam and
  • UW English Placement Exam or UW English as a Second Language Assessment Test (MSNESLAT)*

Because English is the official language of instruction at UW-Madison, students are assumed to have or acquire proficiency in spoken and written English to participate fully in UW-Madison courses.

*The MSNESLAT is designed to evaluate English language proficiency and to place students into English as a Second Language courses that help students improve skills in the written and spoken English used in academic contexts. Students who take the MSNESLAT and obtain a score that does not exempt them from ESL 118 must still satisfy the university’s expectation of college-level English language proficiency. This can be done by taking ESL 118 or by achieving a score of exempt on the MSNESLAT. For students who are placed into ESL, and who need to complete the Communication Part A requirement by taking a course, ESL 118 also satisfies that requirement.


UW-Madison uses three tests to evaluate student placement into or beyond their Communication A and Quantitative Reasoning A courses.  These are administered by Testing and Evaluation Services as part of the Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) process. Under certain conditions, students who have already taken the placement tests may be granted permission to retest.

  • English: Retaking the University of Wisconsin English Placement Test (UWEPT) is only permitted in limited cases where there is clear evidence that something occurred during the testing that affected the student’s ability to complete the test. Requests for permission to retest must be submitted to the Director of English 100. In submitting the request, students should include the reason the retest is appropriate, and any evidence to support the case. If granted, the retest must be completed in-person and within a new student’s first 45 credits of coursework or a transfer student’s first two semesters at UW-Madison.
  • ESLAT: Retests are not available for the Madison English as a Second Language Assessment Test (MSN ESLAT); however, re-evaluation of students’ skills is built into every ESL course. Because the language skills needed to successfully complete academic work in English develop rapidly for multilingual students who are immersed in English language at UW-Madison, students are retested on the first day of class each semester and are moved into a higher-level course if appropriate. Also, instructors assess all students’ language and academic writing skills at the end of each course. Students who perform exceptionally well during the semester can be allowed to skip a level or move beyond ESL 118.
  • Math: Information about retaking the Math placement test is available here.