Math II and You: What You Need to Know About the SAT Subject Test4 min read

pythagorasIn light of the volume of questions we’ve received recently regarding the SAT II Math Subject tests, I’ve decided it’s time to sit down an churn out a blog article to answer a few common questions:

Q: Why is there a Math I and Math II? What’s the difference? 
A: There is actually very little difference between the two tests, except that the Math II is theoretically, you guessed it, a little tougher. Actually the two tests quiz over the same material: any question that appears on the Math II test is fair game for the Math I test as well. However, the Math II test includes a higher percentage of advanced questions. In general, the tests cover material from algebra to trigonometry and pre-calc, but even the Math II does not extend through calculus.

Q: So, which do I take?
A: There are a couple of important factors in answering this question. In general, while it may seem counter-intuitive, the Math II test can actually be easier to make a good score on. As stated previously, there are no topics in Math II that aren’t covered on the Math I test, so it’s not a question of whether or not you’ll know the material yet (you shouldn’t take either test until you know the material). However, the scoring scale for the two tests is different. In other words, since the Math I test is theoretically easier, missing even one question might affect a students score, whereas on the Math II section, students can often miss two or three questions and still receive a perfect score.
However, if you’re really worried about that more advanced math, maybe the Math I test is the right option for you since you’ll encounter fewer of these types of questions. You might want to double check that none of the universities to which you’re applying prefer the Math II test, though.

Q: It’s just called “Math,” so when do I take it?
A: Good question! Again, both tests cover topics up to—but not including—Calculus, so it’s probably best to take the test after you complete—or at least towards the end of—what will be your most advanced high school math course. If your most advanced class will be Calculus or Statistics your senior year, you don’t need to worry about completing these courses before taking the exam since they aren’t on the test. If, however, you’re taking Algebra II junior year and still have one more year of high-school level math to go, you’ll find yourself in a bit of a pickle. Since you won’t have covered all the material yet by the end of Junior year, it could hurt you to take the exam too early. However, your next opportunity to take subject tests won’t be until fall of senior year, when you’re trying to balance six extracurriculars, college apps, your parents trying to spend extra time with you because you’ll be gone in a year, and (hopefully) a social life (and you still will have a little bit of material left to cover). If this is the case, you’ll have to plan ahead. You’ll definitely want to do some test prep (really, anyone should), but ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether it’s easier to fit that all into Junior year and take the test in June, or if you’d rather do some studying over the summer to take the test in the autumn. Keep in mind, you can’t take the SAT and SAT II tests on the same day (however, you can take up to three SAT II tests), so the timeline for when you plan to take the SAT exam may have an impact on your decision—plan ahead!

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Q: How would I know if I even need to take any SAT II Subject Tests?
A: Since not every school requires SAT Subject tests, this is probably something you’ll want to look into before getting up on a Saturday to take another battery of standardized tests. In general, more competitive schools tend to want to see some SAT Subject tests. Additionally, if you’re applying to a particularly competitive program at a school that might otherwise not ask for subject tests, you might be required to send in scores (or you might at least want to). Additionally, having subject test scores to support the idea that you’re a competitive applicant is probably not a bad idea, and some schools might even take them into consideration for scholarships. Really, the best way to know is to ask the admissions counselors at the schools you’re interested in.

Q: Should I take both?
A: No.

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