Jan. 15, 2020
Deciding which SAT Subject Tests to take (if any) comes down to a few things, including which subjects are your strengths, which scores are accepted by your target schools (and what they're used for), and where your own interests lie. One example I'm thinking of is deciding between the Math 1 and Math 2 SAT Subject Tests. Going by name alone, it's hard to tell which test is more suited to your skill set. Here's a little more information to help you choose between the two.
The Math 1 Subject Test is designed to test concepts learned after two years of algebra and one year of geometry. This will give you topics such as Coordinate Geometry, Equations and Inequalities, and a little bit of Data Analysis. On the other hand, Math 2 takes everything that's covered on Math 1 but adds concepts learned in trigonometry and precalculus classes. That means you'll see additional topics more on the level of the laws of sines and cosines and limits and asymptotes. You'll see fewer questions that are directly about algebra and plane geometry on Math 2, but you'll still need those skills when answering questions about functions and spatial geometry!
Where your strengths lie in math overall will determine which of the tests you should take, but the general rule I offer those debating between these two Subject Tests is simple: If you like math and have taken the needed courses (and feel you are good at it!), take Math 2. If you don't like math, or you perhaps tend to perform below where you'd like on tests, take Math 1.
Since it tests more advanced subjects, it makes sense that Math 2 would be the more difficult test. And the College Board knows that! That's why, though it may prove more difficult content-wise, a higher percentage of the students who take Math 2 score, well, higher. In fact, an average of 13 percent of students who take Math 2 earn a perfect score. Compare that to the one percent of students who score perfectly on Math 1 and there's quite a disparity.
This might be attributed to a scoring difference between the two tests. Now, a wrong answer is still wrong. But the Math 2 test is scored on a pretty generous curve compared to Math 1. To get an 800 on the Math 1, you essentially need to answer every question correctly. To get an 800 on the harder Math 2, you only need about 45 out of 50 "raw points" — that is, the number of questions correct minus one-quarter of the number of questions you get wrong. Given that there's a guessing penalty on this test, you're safer taking a chance on a Math 2 question than on the Math 1. That curve likely won't help you if you're simply unfamiliar with the tested concepts, but it can be something to consider if you find yourself making random or "silly" mistakes on your practice tests. If that's the case, don't let those mistakes hold you back from tackling Math 2.
Speaking of practice tests … If you've taken the courses to get you through Math 2, but you're still unsure, taking a practice test of each can help. Doing so gives you the chance to see concretely how you might perform on the real thing, which might make or break an option for you. (Plus, even if you're already set on taking Math 2 over Math 1 — or vice versa — taking a practice test can help you visualize which concepts you'd do well to review and which you've got a solid understanding of already.)
Once you've got your heart set on a test, check out our SAT Subject Test Math 1 Prep or SAT Subject Test Math 2 Prep to round out your studying. They're chock full of useful information including pacing techniques, content review, practice tests and more to help you achieve the score you (and your target schools!) want to see.