ELM: CSU Math Study Guide

This ELM: CSU Math Study Guide course prepares you for the ELM exam, the math placement exam for the California State University system. This preparation course includes video lessons and practice problems in number sense, algebra and geometry. 

About the Course

The ELM exam is required for incoming students at schools within the California State University system. The test is designed to assess your math skills and is used by the university to determine which mathematics classes you can register for. The ELM is a very important test; students who fail the exam are required to take summer courses in the university's Early Start program and then retake the exam. If you fail the exam a second time, you are required to take a developmental math course in your first semester, which does not count as credit towards your degree. Failure to pass this class can lead to being dis-enrolled from the university.

Who Takes the ELM?

The California State University system requires math proficiency for all incoming students, and there are several ways to demonstrate that proficiency instead of taking the ELM, including scoring above 550 on math portion of the SAT or 23 on the math portion of the ACT. Read more about university math requirements here or contact your college advisor for more information. Students who cannot demonstrate math proficiency through other means are required to take the ELM prior to starting their first semester.

How to Prepare for the ELM

Most students learn the math covered on the ELM in high school but may be rusty on some of the concepts. We offer a full collection of video lessons that will help you review or learn all of the math included on the exam. If you want a complete review, start at the beginning and take the quiz associated with each lesson to ensure you've mastered the material. You can also jump to specific chapters if you just need to review some of the material.

Here is a breakdown of the material covered in this course:

Basic Arithmetic Calculations

Review the rules of different types of numbers, including whole numbers and signed numbers. Practice factoring and learn how to find the greatest common factor and least common multiple.

Rational Numbers

Review the rules of factors and practice with like, unlike, and complex fractions as well as mixed numbers. This chapter also reviews ratios and proportions.

Decimals and Percents

Learn basics of decimals and percents, including arithmetic and ordering. Practice converting decimals to percents or fractions.

Irrational Numbers

Work with square roots, including evaluating, estimating, and simplifying square roots. Learn how to simplify complex expressions that contain square roots, and complete square root practice problems.

Data & Statistics

Practice reading bar graphs, pie charts, and representations of data. You'll also learn how to work with mean, median, and mode and use data to make predictions.

Basic Expressions in Algebra

Learn properties associated with algebraic expressions, including the commutative, associative, and distributive properties. This chapter also includes lessons on simplifying expressions and combining like terms.


Use the five main properties of exponents to simplify expressions. Learn how to work with zero and negative exponents.

Linear Equations & Inequalities

Practice solving linear equations with one and two variables. Learn a simple step-by-step process for solving linear equations and inequalities.

Absolute Value Equations and Inequalities

Learn the rules of absolute value and applying them when solving and graphing absolute value equations. This chapter also teaches you how to solve and graph inequalities with absolute value.


Learn about polynomials, including quadratic equations. This chapter includes FOIL, synthetic division, and practice problems for the quadratic formula.

Rational Expressions

Practice adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing rational expressions and then review how to solve a rational equation. Apply rational expressions to the real world by solving problems using constant and average rates.

Perimeter, Area & Volume

Find the perimeter and area of basic shapes, including triangles and rectangles. Also practice finding area and circumference of circles. Learn how to find the volume of prisms, cylinders, and other 3-dimensional shapes.

Properties of Objects

Review the properties of shapes such as circles and quadrilaterals and then dig deep into triangles, angles, and lines. Finally, use the Pythagorean theorem to find the area of triangles.

Graphing Basics

Learn how to read a graph or number line and practice plotting points on a coordinate plane.

Graphing Functions

Practice graphing functions and working with slope. Learn the different forms of linear equations, including standard form and point-slope formula. Then, learn about graphing parabolas and the different forms of quadratic functions.


We provide practice questions along with each lesson. You can also complete ELM sample questions provided by CSU.

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