Data Structures Proficiency Exam

The Data Structures Proficiency Exam is designed to provide a pathway to admissions for prospective applicants to the Online MCS or MCS in Data Science who already have a bachelor’s degree but who do not have graded and transcripted prerequisite CS coursework in the areas of data structures, algorithms, and object-oriented programming.

Prospective applicants interested in taking the Data Structures Proficiency Exam should double-check that they meet the application requirements for the Online MCS or MCS in Data ScienceNote that passing the Exam does not guarantee admission, nor is it required for your application.

The Data Structures Proficiency Exam assumes prior knowledge of basic object-oriented programming, the ability to analyze asymptotic algorithmic run times, e.g. whether a program runs in O(n) or O(n log n) time, and to implement basic data structures including arrays, hash tables, linked lists, trees, heaps and graphs, as well as algorithms for traversals, rebalancing and shortest paths. For those needing a review, the Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals Specialization offered by Illinois on Coursera covers these topics.

Exam Details

  • The exam is hosted on PrairieLearn (a University of Illinois online assessment platform) and is proctored by ProctorU (an online third-party proctoring service).  
  • Prospective applicants must not access the exam on PrairieLean platform until instructed to do so by the proctor.  Accessing the exam before the proctor approves will result in the exam attempt being voided, and the department will decline to accept your application for admission.
  • The exam is 3 hours long.
  • A grade of B+ on the exam (in addition to a minimum 3.2/4.0 GPA in the last two years of the undergraduate degree) is required for the application to be considered in the admission process.
  • A maximum of three attempts within 12 consecutive months are allowed. A minimum of 30 calendar days' learning period is required between any two consecutive exam attempts.


  • Exam results are released within two weeks of the exam attempt.
  • The exam must be completed and grade report uploaded to your application for admission, which must be submitted by the application deadline. 
  • Application deadlines for the Professional Online MCS are posted here.

How to Schedule and Take Your Exam

  • Due to system maintenance, the Data Structures Proficiency Exam cannot be scheduled on Saturdays between the hours of 5 am and 1 pm central time.
  • An Illinois, Gmail, or Microsoft Exchange email account is required to access PrairieLearn. If you do not have an appropriate email address, please create a Gmail address for the purpose of the exam. Gmail users should use the "Google" login option on PrairieLearn.  The email address used for the exam must match the email address associated with your application for admission as well as the email address that you use for ProctorU. Please update the email associated with your application, if necessary, by logging back into your application to change the email address.  You must use the same email address each time that you take the exam.
  • Accessing and completing the exam without a proctor and/or failing to observe the mandatory thirty-day long learning period between exam attempts will be considered academic integrity violationsThe exam attempt will be voided, and the department will decline to accept your application for admission.
  • Pay the ProctorU fee of $30.25 for the 3-hour exam.
  • Schedule your exam appointment at least 72 hours prior to your appointment time, or an additional late fee of $12 will be charged. If retaking the exam and you schedule an exam appointment less than 72 hours in advance, please notify to ensure your previous attempt in PrairieLearn is cleared and a new exam is available for you.
  • Google Chrome or Firefox Browser are required to take the exam. 
  • ProctorU Chrome Extension or ProctorU Firefox Extension are required.

Additional Resources: