Having trouble deciding between SAT Math Level 1 or Level 2? Let’s look at some of the factors that can help you choose what’s best for you.

1. Consider the depth of your knowledge about Math.

The College Board recommends that you have a minimum of three years of high school math as preparation for either tests.

They assess a different range of topics.

  • Math Level 1 contains questions about algebraic expressions, coordinate geometry, data analysis and number sequences.
  • Math Level 2 addresses those topics as well, in addition to assessing knowledge and practice of logarithmic functions and the law of cosines and sines.

How confident are you about your abilities in trigonometry? If not, perhaps Math Level 1 may be a better option.

2. Research school-specific requirements and/or preferences.

Certain institutions, such as the California Institute of Technology, require prospective students to submit the results of the Math Level 2 exam. Other colleges and universities, especially if you apply to STEM programs, may require an SAT math subject test but not all will ask for Math Level 2. Many others will not require math at all.

The University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, for instance, requires a math placement score before students can register for introductory chemistry. The school also encourages students who plan to declare a major that involves calculus to register for Math Level 2.

3. Consider issues of time.

Determine how much time you will need to prepare for each exam. If you are not experienced in trigonometry, statistics, and precalculus, it is not advisable to take the Math Level 2. Self-study is a great tool, but it requires incredible time, effort, and access to help.

On the other hand, students who intend to pursue a degree in STEM will almost certainly need to take Math Level 2 to be a competitive applicant.

Finally, choose a test date that will allow you several weeks for study and review.

4. Review SAT Percentile Rankings.

Be sure to also review the percentile rankings for both exams. In 2016, 20 percent of the students who sat for Math Level 2 received the maximum score of 800. Only 1 percent of students who took Math Level 1 received an 800.

The score you earn is a measure of how well you did relative to others who took the test. Given that so many individuals received an 800 on Math Level 2 means that a mid-700s result is less impressive than it might be on other exams.

A 750 on the level 2 exam does indicate you have significant mathematical knowledge, you are still only in the top 40 percent of test-takers. In contrast, a 750 on Math Level 1 places you in the top 8 percent.

Before you register, weigh the relative importance of both your target score and its percentile ranking. What are the average scores for Math Level 1 and Level 2 at your top-choice institutions?

If a 750 on Math Level 2 is well above average at your dream school, earning this score may be impressive despite its overall percentile placement. Allow your decision to be guided by both your mathematical abilities and the college-specific data that is available to you.

It is also possible to take both exams. Accompanying a high score on Math Level 2 with an 800 on Math Level 1 is one way to potentially distinguish your application.

Alternatively, if you took Math Level 2 but did not meet your goal score, you might do better to register for Math Level 1 instead of retaking the level 2 exam.

Good luck, students! To learn more about how to study for subject tests, click here.