SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Test

October 26, 2020
By AdmissionSight

SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Test: Your Questions Answered

The SAT has a series of additional tests known as Subject Tests that give students an opportunity to show off their specialty areas. These tests are a great way to show your academic prowess in a particular subject to prove to colleges that you’re not only interested in that field but that you already have some college-level knowledge of the subject matter. If math has always been one of your strongest subjects you might consider taking the SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests, sometimes also seen as Math Level 1 & 2 or simply Math I & II. While both tests focus on math overall, there are subtle differences between  SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests that are important to know before deciding between the two. In general, Math 2 features a wider range of topics and is designed for students who have taken primarily high school level math courses. Despite this subtle difference, both tests contain 50 questions in multiple-choice format and must be completed in one hour. Here, we’ll take a look at the SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests in greater depth and offer some tips to help you succeed when taking them.

What are the benefits of taking these exams?

While there’s no standard requirement for taking these exams before heading into college, the experts at AdmissionSight highly recommend it. Both Math 1 and 2 Subject Tests offer students a wide array of benefits that can’t be understated. While it might seem like extra, unnecessary work to complete more test, these significant advantages might make you reconsider:

  • Show colleges your specific academic interests – For most students, it’s harder to get accepted into a dedicated school program rather than a general college. Taking the SAT Math Subject Tests helps to illustrate to colleges your dedication to the subject and your interest in pursuing it further in college.
  • Fulfill some college requirements – Some prestigious colleges actually require incoming students to take the Subject Tests in order to prove their dedication and capabilities within a particular subject. It’s a tool used to find the most gifted students.
  • Stand out among applicants– Although all students are encouraged to take these tests, only a few go out of their way to put in the hard work needed to pass. This ensures that those who do complete the Math Subject Tests will stand out amongst thousands of other applicants who didn’t.
  • Gain credit for some courses – Colleges love to see students who go out of their way to prove their academic skills, and some are even willing to reward that extra work. By completing these Subject Tests with high enough scores, you could earn some entry-level course credit at some colleges.

What Does the SAT Math 1 Subject Test Contain?

The SAT Math 1 Subject Test covers several topics that students learned in their first two years of algebra and their first year of geometry. Here’s a digestible break down of what students can expect to encounter when taking the test:

Topics and Details Percentage of Overall Test Rough No. of  Questions
Geometry and Measurement 38-42% 19-21
Plane Euclidean/Measurement 18-22% 9-11
Coordinate: transformations, symmetry, circles, parabolas, lines 8-12% 4-6
Three-dimensional: volume, surface area, solids (prisms, spheres, pyramids, cones cylinders) 4-6% 2-3
Trigonometry: identities and right triangles 6-8% 3-4
Number and Operations 10-14% 5-7
Sequences, matrices, elementary number theory, counting, complex numbers, proportion and ratio, operations
Algebra and Functions 38-42% 19-21
Functions and properties, modeling and representation, inequalities, equations, expressions (exponential, rational, polynomial, linear)
Probability, Statistics, and Data Analysis 8-12% 4-6
Probability, least-squares regression, plots and graphs, interquartile range, range, mode, median, mean regression (linear), probability

a math problem with a pencil

As you can tell from the display above, the SAT Math Level 1 Subject Test will contain questions mainly focused on geometry, functions, and/or algebra. As a result, these are the main subjects you should be studying if you opt to take the Math 1 Subject Test. Keep in mind that there are a few questions that will focus on probability, statistics, and/or data analysis. It’s important to remember since some students tend to overlook it since it’s not a majority of the test and because many high schoolers don’t spend a lot of time with this subject matter in their math courses.

What Does the SAT Math 2 Subject Test Contain?

Interestingly, the SAT Math 2 Subject Test covers nearly the same subject matter as Math 1, roughly the same topics that are covered within your first two years of algebra and first year of geometry. However, this test is often considered more difficult because it also incorporates questions regarding trigonometry and precalculus. Still, the typical geometry topics that are learned in a normal geometry class are indirectly assessed through advanced topics in geometry like three-dimensional or coordinate geometry. Here’s another helpful break down of what students can expect to encounter when taking the test:

Topics and Details Percentage of Overall Test Rough No. of  Questions
Number and Operations 10-14% 5-7
Vectors, series, sequences, matrices, elementary number theory, counting, complex numbers, proportion and ratio
Algebra and Functions 48-52% 24-26
Properties of linear functions, representation, and modeling, inequalities, equations, expressions (parametric, recursive, piecewise, periodic, inverse trigonometric, trigonometric, logarithmic, exponential, rational, polynomial, linear)
Geometry and Measurement 28-32% 14-16
Coordinate: polar coordinates, transformations, symmetry, hyperbolas, ellipses, circles, parabolas, lines 10-14% 5-7
Three-dimensional: volume, surface area, and solids (prisms, spheres, pyramids, cones, cylinders) coordinates in three dimensions 4-6% 2-3
Trigonometry: double angle formula, equations, the law of sines, the law of cosines, radian measure, identities, right triangles 12-16% 6-8
Probability, Statistics, and Data Analysis 8-12% 4-6
Probability, least squares regression (exponential, quadratic, linear) plots and graphs, standard deviation, interquartile range, range, mode, median, mean

When it comes to tallying the questions associated with separate topics, it’s clear that the SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test is heavily weighed down with functions and algebra, with roughly half of the total questions being dedicated to these areas. You’ll also see a decent amount of the tests geared towards trigonometry. Because of these divisions, becoming familiar with the properties for all various kinds of functions (trigonometric functions included) is one of the most important things you can study leading up to the Math 2 Subject Test. If you’re not able to recite these forwards and backward, there’s a good chance you will simply not be able to answer or even understand many of the questions. So, don’t forget to look into those if you decide to take this test!

a person taking a math test

How can you decide between SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests?

You should go ahead with SAT Math Level 2 if you: have taken precalculus, trigonometry, or both; earned a B or higher in those courses; are comfortable with your understanding of using graphing or scientific calculators. While it might be tempting to opt for SAT Math Level 1 even if you’re prepared to handle Level 2, it’s not always in your best interest. You might choose to take Level 1 with the plan of earning a higher score because you’re over-prepared, but you might end up doing worse than you had originally thought. The experts at AdmissionSight recommend choosing the test that covers topics that you have most recently covered. This ensures that the ideas are still fresh in your brain and easier to recall. Don’t forget to take into account the colleges you wish to attend as some might have requirements as to which test you should take.

Where do SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests Overlap?

Due to the similarity of the two tests, there’s naturally some overlap. Here are some similarities between the content in Math Level 1 and Level 2:

  • Basic trigonometry
  • Statistics
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Three-dimensional geometry
  • Elementary algebra

How are the tests different?

Although there is some discernible overlap between the two tests, there is still an emphasis on Level 2 (hence the name) being more difficult and containing advanced content when compared to Level 1. Here are some other notable ways in which the tests differ:

  • Probability, Statistics, and Data Analysis: Math Level 1 and 2 both have probability and data interpretation, interquartile range, range, mode, median, and mean. However, Level 2 adds the standard deviation. Although both have least-squares linear regression, Level 2 adds exponential and quadratic regression.
  • Measurement and Geometry: A large portion of questions found on Math Level 1 is focused on measurement and Euclidean geometry, which you won’t find much of on Level 2. Ideas surrounding plan geometry, instead, are associated with questions regarding three-dimensional and coordinate geometry on Math Level 2. Questions involving trigonometry on Level 2 primarily revolve around right angle trigonometry (tangent, cosine, sine) and the basic relationships amongst these ratios. Math Level 2 throws in questions surrounding three-dimensional coordinates, polar coordinates, hyperbolas, and ellipses. Trigonometry questions on this test place a heavier focus on graphs and properties of trigonometric functions, identities and equations, inverse functions, and the laws of cosines and sines.
  • Functions and Algebra: Math Level 1 has primarily algebraic functions and equations, while Level 2 adds some advanced functions and equations like trigonometric, logarithmic, and exponential.
  • Operations and Numbers: Level 1 tests more of a fundamental understanding of the subject matter covered in Level 2. For instance, when Level 1 asks questions about the arithmetic behind complex numbers, Level 2 adds questions about graphical and various other features of complex numbers. Vectors and series are also included in Level 2.

Student doing algebra on a board.

As you can see, there are some important similarities and differences to note between SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests. Keep in mind that these tests are designed to reflect what’s being taught in high schools around the country. However, since high school courses tend to vary between states, some students are going to find topics that weren’t covered in-depth or at all during their classes. That’s not something you have to actively worry about. In fact, you don’t even have to nail every question in order to get the highest score of 800. We’ve seen several students do fantastically even when having to answer questions from a topic that wasn’t covered in their high school courses.

What resources can I use to prepare for these tests?


The Official SAT Subject Test Study Guide in Mathematics Level 1

This book will give you sample tests directly from the test maker to help prepare you for the SAT Math Level 1 Subject Test. Some features of the guide include:

  • Feature tips for test-taking, unique approaches, and tricks for using calculators effectively
  • A number of test questions with detailed explanations
  • Four complete Math Level 1 Subject Tests that were administered for past exams

The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests, Second Edition

This is the most comprehensive study guide for all of the 20 SAT Subject Tests. You’ll get tips for handling both the Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests just in case you want to prepare for both. Here are some features:

  • Two CDs with comprehensive listening tests
  • 20 complete Subject Tests that were previously used on exams
  • A detailed description for each Subject Test detailing the topics featured and coursework recommended for studying
  • Detailed responses and explanations for each test question
  • Updated versions of the answer sheets, background questions, and instructions
  • Relevant approaches and tips for determining which test you should take, how to prepare for them, and the most ideal times to take these tests

Free online downloads 

Getting Ready for the SAT Subject Tests (.pdf/8.68MB)

This download contains helpful info on each of the 20 SAT Subject Tests, including for the Math Level 1 and 2 exams. There are also tips for taking the tests and sample questions.

SAT Math Level 1 Practice Subject Test 

SAT Math Level 2 Practice Subject Test 

The cover of the official SAT Subject Test Study Guide in Mathematics Level 1

How can I decide between the SAT Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests?

  • Previous coursework – Think back to the math courses you’ve taken, and compare them with the material covered on each of the two math subject tests. Choose the one which features subjects that you have the most experience covering in class.
  • Double-down on your strengths – If you feel equally familiar with the topics on both the Math Level 1 and 2 Subject Tests, choose the one that highlights your strengths more. However, as we mentioned before, don’t settle for Level 1 when you have what it takes to handle Level 2.
  • Take sample tests – There are many sample tests you can take either online or in books. These can give you an accurate idea of how you’ll perform on the real Math Level 1 and 2 tests. If you tend to score better on one of these tests when doing the sample exams, it could be a good indication that that’s the one you should take.
  • College requirements – If you have your sites set on a particular college, take a look and see if they recommend or even require applicants to have taken one of these tests. It’s a no-brainer to opt for the one your ideal college recommends in order to meet the requirements to gain admittance. Hint: it’s usually the Math Level 2 Subject Test because it’s more difficult.

AdmissionSight can help you prepare

AdmissionSight has established itself as one of the trusted names in the college admissions world. Our team of experts can help you get into the university of your dreams through a variety of helpful services including essay editing, summer program selection, and subject test preparation. No matter where you are along your academic path, we have the skills, knowledge, and experience to aid you in all of your pursuits. If you’re interested in learning more about our services, feel free to contact us to set up an appointment.


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