by Catherine Tierney
Most competitive schools recommend or require students to submit scores from the SAT Subject Tests. Some schools require specific tests (especially engineering schools which tend to require the math or physics subject tests), while others require a certain number but leave the choice of which to take up to the student. Regardless, these tests are a great way to showcase strengths or compensate for a lower grade in a core subject.
The math subject tests are the most popular, but there are actually two math tests offered: Math I and Math II. Some students are unsure about how to differentiate between them and which one they should take.
The format of both tests is similar; they each have 50 multiple choice questions that need to be completed in an hour. Additionally, both are scored on a 200-800 scale. Like all SAT Subject Tests, the math tests assess knowledge of high school-level content (so they’re not like AP classes). The difference lies in the breadth of content covered. Both tests cover two years of algebra and one of geometry, but the math II test also includes precalculus. The math II test accounts for these additional topics by cutting easier geometry and algebra I questions. You would be hard-pressed to find a simple plane or Euclidean geometry question on the math II test.
When considering which math subject test to take, you need to consider two factors: your math coursework and the requirements of the schools on your list. If you’ve finished precalculus, you should take math II; if you have not, you should take math I. If you’re in the middle of precalculus, you may want to consider taking the May or June subject tests instead of the December one. The closer you are to the end of the course, the better you are likely to do on the test. Depending on your school list, you may not even have a choice of which test to take. Some schools require Math II from all applicants and do not give Math I as an option. Granted, this is only a small number of schools, but be sure to look closely at the testing requirements on the school’s admissions website.
Some students also ask if they should “backtest” and take Math I even though they have the requisite precalculus and trigonometry coursework. This is likely to backfire in two ways. For one, admissions officers won’t be as impressed and may wonder what you’re trying to hide by selecting the test that disregards a year of your high school coursework. Also, the curve of the Math I test is much harsher. On the Math II test, a raw score of 44 (that is, 44 questions correct out of 60) can land you an 800. That means that you don’t even have to do all the questions to get a perfect score. The Math I test typically allows no missed answers for a perfect score. Also, if you have completed precalculus or trigonometry, you are further removed from the content of Math I and so may actually find this “easier” test to be more difficult.
Galin Education offers both individualized and group support for the math subject tests.
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