SAT Subject Test: Math Level 1 or 2

If you are planning to join college for undergraduate studies and need to take the SAT Math Subject Test, then you may be confused about choosing between Math Level 1 and Maths Level 2.  Choosing between Math Level 1 and Maths Level 2 requires taking into account several factors, which we will analyze here so that you can take an informed decision.

To start with, the two tests are very similar in structure; you have to answer 50 questions in 60 minutes. For every correct answer, you get +1 mark, for every wrong answer you get -¼ mark, and for every blank, you get zero marks.

It is crucial that you also understand the other minute differences. Before that, let’s look at what is covered in each test:

Topic Math Level 1 Math Level 2
Function 6 questions 12 questions
Trigonometry 4 questions 10 questions
Algebra 15 questions 9 questions
Plane Geometry 10 questions 0 questions
Co-ordinate Geometry 5 questions 6 questions
Solid Geometry 3 questions 3 questions
Statistics 4 questions 4 questions
Miscellaneous 3 questions 6 questions
TOTAL 50 questions 50 questions


Note: The numbers are not exact but approximate.

The above chart only gives a glimpse of the differences; let’s dig deeper to understand the differences better:

  • The difference in weight of topics: As you can observe from the above chart, there are more Algebra and Plane Geometry questions in Level 1 than in Level 2, whereas there are more Functions and Trigonometry questions in Level 2 than in Level 1. Level 2 covers almost all the topics that appear in Level 1, but Level 2 has more emphasis on Pre-calculus and Trigonometry. Level 2 tests higher-level concepts associated with Level 1 topics, so if you intend to take up Level 2, make sure that you are comfortable with those topics.
  • The difference in the nature of the questions: Level 1 comprises fewer topics/subtopics than Level 2, but Level 1 digs deeper into the topics and requires more steps and calculations. On the other hand, though Level 2 has advanced concepts, questions are more straight-forward in wording and design and also require less calculation. However, solving a few Level 2 questions may require, or maybe more convenient with, use of Graphing calculator.
  • The difference in Grading Curve: Contrary to expectation, Level 1 follows a more stringent grading pattern than Level 2. For example, if you want to score a perfect 800 in Level 1, you must get all the 50 questions correct; even if you make 1 mistake, your score would most likely slide to 790 or even less. Level 2, on the other hand, is measured on a more lenient scale; even if you made 4 to 6 mistakes (not always, of course!), you could still score a perfect 800!

Keeping in mind the above points, it really boils down to two major factors in deciding which test to choose.

1)  Which Math Course you have completed: If you have just completed 10th grade Math and you are moving to 11th grade, Level 1 math may be more suitable for you, as Math Level 2 questions may be a bit challenging because of higher levels of Trigonometry, Functions, and Algebra. However, if you have completed or are on the verge of completing 11th grade Math, you can take a shot at Math Level 2 comfortably.

2) What do the colleges you are applying to recommend:  You must research about the programs you want to apply to and find out their specific test requirements. Many institutions give you flexibility with regard to which Subject Test scores you send, while many others have strict requirements. For example, Caltech requires Math Level 2 score for all its programs. At MIT, students can choose between Level 1 and Level 2. Johns Hopkins and most colleges in the University of California system (e.g. Berkeley) require Level 2 for their Engineering applicants.

If you are still at a loss, you may try taking mock tests of each level to compare how you perform on them. If you score much higher on one test, choose that one! In any case, you can come to Manya-The Princeton Review. Visit http://www.manyagroup.com or any Manya Center near you to discuss with our counselors or teachers.

By Sudip Kumar, Senior Math Faculty

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