SAT subject tests - Math level 1 or level 2?

SAT subject tests - Math level 1 or level 2?

Are you confused between the Math Levels in SAT exam?

Well, here’s a blog post to solve this issue and give you a clear difference between the two.

By the end of this article, you will definitely have a clear mind on what to choose.


SAT Subject Tests are from the College Board’s suite of College Admissions’ tests.

Students aspiring for the top colleges offering undergraduate programs take up these tests. They are not surely taken by all the students. It all depends on the college's requirements. Some of the colleges have them as mandatory admission criteria while others don’t have.

Few of the colleges that need/recommend/consider Subject SATs are:

  • The Harvard University
  • Yale University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Rice University
  • University of Notre Dame Georgetown University
  • Carnegie Mellon University

Most of these colleges recommend the SAT Subject Test – Math Level 1 and/or Math Level 2. We are going to focus on the testing areas of these 2 subject tests and how does one choose between these now.

  • Content-wise, both the tests mentioned above do not have much difference.
  • They are also conducted on the same date in the months of August, October, November, December, May, and June.
  • Both the tests allow the use of Calculator.
  • Both the tests have the range 200-800 and have 50 multiple choice questions to cover in 60 minutes.
  • Both the tests focus on 4 broad math areas:
    • Number and Operations
    • Algebra and Functions
    • Geometry & Measurement
    • Data Analysis, Statistics & Probability.

‘Algebra and Functions’ and ‘Geometry & Measurement’ are the major contributors of the test. Approximately (80%-90%). The other two areas contribute the remaining (10%-20%).

While the above are all similar. Certain subtle differences make each one a matter of choice for the students.

Read more on using calculators here - on the Calculator  SAT Math – When Exactly?

The choice between the 2 tests - Level 1 and Level 2, depends on the student’s comfort with a few topics. These topics either differ in their depth/difficulty level or include one of the areas but not the other.

This comfort generally depends upon the grade/class of the student. Both 11th, as well as the 12th graders, take up the test.

The students should analyze the differences in the content of the test areas in both Math Level 1 and Level 2. A good choice would be to choose the test that has the content a student has most recently studied.

For e.g., Suppose a student capable of taking up the Level 2 Test is taking the Level 1 Test.

What good will this do for him?

Nothing! Because things that he learnt and practiced most recently is where he has a chance to perform better.

The differences in the content of the test areas, as summarized by the College Board are tabulated below:

  Level 1 Level 2
Number and Operations Basic understanding. Example: Arithmetic of complex numbers. Graphical and other properties of complex numbers. Includes Series and Vectors.
Algebra and Functions Algebraic equations and functions. Advanced equations of functions. E.g. exponential, logarithmic and trigonometric
Geometry and Measurement Plane Euclidean Geometry and Measurement. Trigonometry limited to Right Triangle Trigonometry (Sine, Cosine, Tangent). Application of Concepts learnt in plane geometry, coordinate geometry and 3d geometry. Includes questions about ellipses, hyperbolas, polar coordinates and coordinates in three dimensions. Trigonometry focuses on properties of graphs of trigonometric functions, inverse trigonometric functions, trigonometric equations and identities, and the laws of sine and cosine.
Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability Covers the concepts of Mean, Median, Mode, Range, Interquartile Range, Data Interpretation, and Probability. Tests only Least-Squares Linear Regression. Apart from all the concepts tested in LEVEL 1, LEVEL 2 also covers ‘standard deviation’.
Tests Quadratic and Exponential Regression.

It is important to know that, one may choose to take either test on the test day, irrespective of what test he/she registered for. It is also good to know that one does not have to get all the questions right to get the highest score of 800 on the tests! 

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