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As you’re browsing through the different SAT Subject Tests offered by the CollegeBoard, you’ll notice that there are two separate SAT Subject Tests for math: Mathematics Level 1 and Mathematics Level 2. Although both tests are used to measure the knowledge and skills you’ve gained through your high school math classes, there are still subtle differences between the two. These differences are important to understand when you are registering for the SAT Subject Tests as they reflect different students’ coursework experience with high school and college mathematics.

Why are there two different tests for math?

While there aren’t too many differences between the two tests, the two tests were created in order to ensure that there was some degree of fairness among students taking the math SAT Subject Tests. Since not all schools offer higher-level math courses (e.g. precalculus, single-variable calculus), the creation of two different math SAT Subject Tests was meant to help eliminate any unfair advantages that students would have if their school offered more advanced math courses. Therefore, even though Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 cover the same material, Math Level 2 also contains additional topics that not all high schools offer.

Mathematics Level 1

The Math Level 1 test requires students to complete 50 multiple choice questions within an hour. The CollegeBoard recommends that students should have already taken at least three years’ worth of high school math, two years of algebra and one year of geometry, before taking this test. Since this test covers less material than Math Level 2, make sure you know most of the basic concepts you have learned throughout high school because you will most likely see questions that focus on applying your knowledge of basic concepts to unique problems.

Mathematics Level 2

The Math Level 2 test also requires students to complete 50 multiple choice questions within an hour. The recommended prior coursework is the same as Math Level 1 except with the additional knowledge of trigonometry and precalculus. Since this test covers more material than Math Level 1, there will likely be more of a focus on applying trigonometry and precalculus (and sometimes even calculus), although there will be questions that require you to solve abstract problems utilizing basic concepts.

Overview of Both Tests

Like all other SAT Subject Tests, both tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 800. Remember, there are GUESSING PENALTIES (1 pt for correct, -1/4 for incorrect, 0 for blank), so if you absolutely have no clue what the answer is, guessing probably is not the best choice. Since calculators are allowed on both exams, it is recommended that you bring a multifunction or graphing calculator, although all the questions are solvable without the use of a calculator (it’ll just take a little longer to answer questions).

Recommendations

According to the CollegeBoard, the average Math Level 1 score for 2013 college-bound seniors was 621 while the average Math Level 2 score was 686. You’re probably thinking, why is the score higher for Math Level 2? Since Math Level 2 requires the additional knowledge of precalculus, students who have had more experience with higher-level math courses take the Math Level 2 test. In addition, since the Math Level 2 test is considered “more advanced” of the two math SAT Subject Tests, students interested in pursuing math-based fields of study are more likely to take this test (and score higher) in order to demonstrate their ability and interest to colleges.

If you have no prior knowledge of precalculus and/or are not comfortable with math, definitely take the Math Level 1 test. Since Math Level 2 covers topics from precalculus (and even calculus in some occasions), you may feel a little confused and stumped with questions as you’re working through the test. That being said, if you’re still interested in taking the Math Level 2 test, go through some practice questions and figure out whether or not you are prepared. If you are currently taking precalculus, I recommend (from personal experience) that you wait until the end of the course (May or June) to take the Math Level 2 test so that you have gone through all of the material.

There is also question of whether or not students should take both exams to see which one they do better on. Math Level 2 historically offers a more lenient curve (up to -7 points is still usually an 800) than Math Level 1 (-1 or -2 points is usually still an 800). However, don’t solely rely on the curve. You should have a well-developed knowledge of math, and if you are hoping that your score will be high based on the curve, you are sadly mistaken! Take the test you feel most comfortable with, and be aware that even if you take both tests, most colleges will only count one of them as part of the SAT Subject Test requirement.

Don’t feel pressured to take either tests if you have not taken enough math classes or do not feel prepared but still want to pursue a math-based field of study. Colleges understand that not all high schools offer math classes of equal rigor (some don’t even offer them at all), so if you’re nowhere near where you think you should be, don’t force yourself to take the test. Both tests measure your knowledge and skills in math, so focus less on the differences and focus more on test preparation!

If you’re looking for an in-depth comparison between the two, check out what the CollegeBoard has to say here (under “Additional Things to Know”).



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the author

Raised in the outskirts of Austin, Texas, Eric Po is a freshman at Harvard University studying Economics. He loves listening to country music (particularly Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley), but you can’t blame him; he’s a Texan after all! He also enjoys outdoor activities, including soccer, running, and Ultimate. While he’s not sweating outside in the heat, Eric enjoys volunteering for nonprofit organizations that work with youth. Although he hopes to be a financial analyst in the future, he eventually wants to work with students as a counselor.

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  1. Allan Nunes on April 27, 2015

    This post has been very useful to me. Thanks.
    I would like to know if it’s recommended to study for Math level 1 with book of Math level 2.
    There would be any problem?

    Thkx again 🙂

  2. Ishita Ratra on December 19, 2015

    Hi. I actually have a more direct question. I, too, want to pursue Economics at Harvard and am currently doing A level mathematics. However, some the topics covered on this test are not in my syllabus. So, should I take Math 2 and try to learn the topics or should I stick to Math level 1? What would be preferred for Economics at Harvard? Which one did you take?

    That ended up being more than one question, but I would really appreciate any advice. Thanks.

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