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By Alexa M., SAT Math Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
This question comes up regularly, and the short answer is: it doesn’t matter. Take whichever test you feel you can do well on. Really. Even MIT does not require that you take the Math 2, though they do insist you take one of the two math tests. Unless you claim on your application that you intend to be a math, physics, or other math-intensive major, your choice of test is unlikely to make a significant difference to your application.
The College Board’s official statement on the matter is: “If you have taken trigonometry or elementary functions (precalculus) or both, received grades of B or better in these courses, and are comfortable knowing when and how to use a scientific or graphing calculator, you should select the Level 2 test. If you are sufficiently prepared to take Level 2, but elect to take Level 1 in hopes of receiving a higher score, you may not do as well as you expect. You may want to consider taking the test that covers the topics you learned most recently, since the material will be fresh in your mind.”
It is useful to be aware of the fact that scores on the two tests are not comparable. Because the Math 2 is taken primarily by those who would describe themselves as “math people”, the overall scores tend to be higher. A 700 on the Math 2 will put you at around the 50th percentile. Fortunately, colleges know this, but it can be a bit of a shock when you receive your scores (especially if you are a self-described “math person”)!
What are the differences between the two tests?
• The Math 1 directly covers plane geometry, which the Math 2 doesn’t cover at all.
• The Math 2 emphasizes a number of major topics that aren’t covered on the Math 1:
o Properties of complex numbers, not just their arithmetic
o Parametric equations
o Polar Coordinates
o Coordinate geometry in three dimensions
o A great deal more trigonometry (graphs of trigonometric functions, radians, Laws of Sines and Cosines, trigonometric equations)
o Standard deviation
If you’ve covered the topics on the Math 2, you may want to sign up for the more advanced test. You can change your mind (and your tutoring!) up to two weeks before the test, so there is no harm in starting to prepare for the Math 2 and then deciding you are not ready for it.
Below is a more detailed chart of the differences between the two tests:
Alexa graduated from Reed College and earned a Master’s degree in math from the University of Pennsylvania. She has tutored students at every age and level from 10 to adult and from basic math through AP calculus, multivariate calculus and beyond.
Are you gearing up for the Math Level 1 or Level 2 Test?
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“We highly recommend Prepped & Polished. My daughter Emily was having a difficult time with the math portion of her SATs having spent months with a different tutoring service. She spent about six weeks with an incredible tutor at Prepped & Polished and learned some incredibly useful techniques, strategies and study habits. She was very well prepared for the January SAT and went in with a lot of confidence. She got the results back and raised her math score by 130 points!! Prepped & Polished was very flexible in offering tutor times and gave her an appropriate amount of prep work for each session. She never felt overwhelmed. With her new test results Emily can now pursue several of the colleges she originally thought were out of reach. Thanks so much to Alexis and everyone at Prepped!”
“I just wanted to update you on my math score from the January SAT..I got a 630 and my math score went up 120 points from last time! I was so excited when I got the results. I also wanted to say thank you for everything! You were a huge help with the strategies and planning..it all paid off!”