What are SAT Subject Tests and should you take them?

SAT Subject Tests (formerly called SAT II’s) are hour-long assessments of subject mastery in core high school curricula – math, science, history, and language. They are often requested or required by admissions committees at highly selective American colleges and universities, though the policies around SAT Subject Tests have shifted significantly over the past five years.

So how do college admissions committees actually use SAT Subject Test scores? Here’s what the College Board thinks they use them for:

In practice, SAT Subject Test scores function more or less the way SAT or ACT scores do: they provide an objective benchmark with which to assess students from radically different geographic and educational backgrounds. One important caveat, however, is that even among schools that technically require SAT Subject Tests, these scores play a much more limited role in admissions decisions than a student’s general SAT or ACT scores. Phew!

If you’re a future college applicant, your basic strategy in taking SAT Subject Tests should be to showcase your individual interest in (or, more romantically, your “devotion to excellence in”) a particular field. For instance, an applicant presenting herself as a pre-medicine student might want to reassure the admissions officers that she has a solid foundation in the relevant sciences (Biology M and/or Chemistry). Indeed, as we’ll see below, many colleges actually require specific SAT Subject Tests for students applying to particular schools, programs, or majors.

However, the basic strategy for taking SAT Subject Tests has morphed into a less optimistic one. Rather than asking yourself, “What am I uniquely interested in?” the typical strategy has become, “What am I not terrible at?” Indeed, if you’re applying to selective schools, you’ll likely need to take SAT Subject Tests no matter what!

However, if you’re an anxious sophomore or freshman, the higher ed PR machine has good news for you: in general, colleges and universities are moving away from the SAT Subject Test requirement.

Reasons for this move vary from school to school, but Erica Meltzer has one of the best theories around to explain the trend: jettisoning the SAT Subject Test requirement has the appearance (if not the actual consequence) of making college admissions more inclusive in terms of socioeconomic and racial diversity. If this smoke-and-mirrors tactic continues to function in colleges’ favors, we’re liable to see more schools move that direction as well.

(For the record, two trendsetters – MIT and Harvard – appear to be holding strong on their SAT Subject Test requirements. That means SAT Subject Tests themselves are unlikely to go anywhere, even if it seems College Board is expending all its energy on revamping the SAT and AP curricula.)

Now let’s take a closer look at the Subject Test landscape. What are schools saying about these tests, and what do they expect to see from kids taking them?


There persist roughly 4 major admissions policy categories for SAT Subject Tests:

Required (only the most selective schools use this policy),

Recommended (read = “expected”)

Considered (read = “not expected, but helpful”)

Test Flexible (these schools will accept SAT Subject Test scores in lieu of SAT or ACT scores)

Some schools change their admissions policies each year (schools tend to change in favor of less restriction around SAT Subject Tests), so it’s best to check the university’s website before submitting scores! These categories should be considered non-overlapping and exhaustive: any school that doesn’t adhere to one of the policies above effectively disregards SAT Subject Test scores when considering an applicant.

It’s also important to note that only about 40-60 schools actually adhere to one of the policies above, making SAT Subject Tests a rite of passage for only a fraction of applicants. However, the schools that have such policies are arguably the most desired schools. So even if you think you’re unlikely to apply to such a school, you’d be well-advised to keep your options open concerning SAT Subject Tests, as there are more (and less) optimal times to take them. (More on that below!)

Of the dozen schools in the Required category, Harvard and MIT get most of the attention. But others that you ought to be aware of include CalTech and Harvey Mudd. (Note that this category does include universities that require specific SAT Subject Tests for entrance into specific schools, like the University of California system; these schools Schools with this policy will be demarcated by the ( † ) symbol.) Note: Most selective Canadian schools will require SAT Subject Tests for US applicants.

In addition, a handful of these schools exercise a variation of the Test Flexible policy as well: students are allowed to submit ACT scores in lieu of SAT Subject Test scores. The trade-off usually works like this: either submit SAT + SAT Subject Test scores or submit ACT scores. Schools with this policy will be demarcated by an asterisk ( * ). 

Around 20 schools are currently in the Recommended category for SAT Subject Test scores. This is the most volatile category: it’s likely that many of these schools will move to the Considered policy category in the next five years. What characterizes most of the schools in the Recommended bloc is that they are typically either large state schools that need to use this policy to combat excessive numbers of applicants (many schools in the UC system come to mind…) or highly selective schools that have desired to appear less elitist (e.g., Princeton and Yale, who still “strongly recommend” students submit SAT Subject Test scores). Applying to one of these schools without submitting SAT Subject Test scores will place applicants at a serious disadvantage.

The most flexible policy, Considered, is the largest category consisting of roughly 46 schools. This policy seems to say, “Yes, Subject Test scores do offer a valuable lens into a student’s profile, but requiring that everyone submit them imposes too great a burden. Therefore, we’ll review them if you submit but don’t necessarily need them.” Submission of SAT Subject Test scores is not necessarily expected from most applicants at these schools, which presents students who opt to take them with a unique opportunity to distinguish themselves from other applicants.

Finally, there’s an emerging policy among schools known for taking innovative approaches to admissions. This Test Flexible admissions approach will allow you to submit your SAT Subject Test scores instead of SAT or ACT scores.

There are currently only 6 schools abiding by this policy, but per the general trend observed above, we wouldn’t be the least surprised if more schools moved to the Test Flexible category in coming years.

Note: For home schooled applicants or those applying to US colleges as international students, there may be a special requirement for you to take SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT or ACT – regardless of the school’s testing policy for all undergraduates. Do your research on each school you are applying to and plan accordingly!

To see our growing database of college admissions SAT Subject Test requirements, you can visit the link below:

// SAT Subject Test Database //

Since many of our students have tentative rather than finalized college lists by the time they should be studying and taking the SAT Subject Tests, here are a few general guidelines about who might want to consider adding Subject Tests to their testing plan.


Let’s say you’re a high school sophomore, and you’re not sure if you’ll end up applying to a school with an admissions policy in the Required or Recommended category. If you’re planning to take advanced level coursework, or if your school doesn’t offer advanced courses in subjects you are interested in, you should consider taking the SAT Subject Test that corresponds to the course(s) you’d like to demonstrate achievement in.

For instance, some of our students are taking precalculus or calculus in their sophomore years. That’s an impressive feat, and one that will obviously pop up on their high school transcript – but because the rigor and composition of calculus classes varies from state to state (indeed, even from zip code to zip code!), these students will want to prove their prowess by scoring well on the Math Level 2 test.

As mentioned above, Subject Tests can also help strengthen or flesh out a student’s narrative in the admissions process. Schools definitely appreciate academic achievement in one particular area, but admissions personnel also tend to express appreciation for well-rounded students. Therefore, students applying to engineering programs will likely want to submit Subject Test scores in Math Level 1 or Level 2 and/or Physics, but they might also gain an advantage by signaling a secondary strength in Literature or US History.

By the same token, students ought to avoid sending repetitive signals with SAT Subject Tests; if you’re a native Spanish speaker identifying as Hispanic or Latino on your Common App, the SAT Subject Test in Spanish is not going to enhance your narrative – but the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry definitely will (all the more so, since Latinos are historically underrepresented in STEM fields).

Finally, SAT Subject Tests provide students who didn’t excel in their first few years of high school with an opportunity for redemption. Let’s say you have a natural aptitude in math, but you didn’t take your freshman math class seriously. As a result, you’re not in the advanced track for math classes and you’ve spent the last couple years trying to pull up your GPA. Good news! An SAT Subject Test in Math Level 1 or Level 2 provides an excellent means for you to prove your mettle to the admissions folks. Indeed, admissions officers truly appreciate this sort of contextualization of student performance. (The Common App also has a field for explanations of this sort.)


Given that college admissions are becoming more selective, we anticipate the role of SAT Subject Tests in admissions strategy will continue to grow – despite the emerging trend away from official Subject Test requirements.

If you’re considering taking a SAT Subject Test, two things are critical: completing an initial diagnostic practice test to determine study needs and timing the official test around the completion of coursework. For sophomores taking Honors Chemistry, for instance, schedule the SAT Chemistry Subject Test for June. For juniors taking AP US History, it would make sense to take the SAT US History Subject Test in May, right alongside the AP exam.

For one-to-one guidance and academic support in preparation for SAT Subject Tests, working with a tutor is a great option. To schedule your free, 30-minute consult with a senior tutor, fill out our Contact Form or email Student Services at .


Tips for Writing the SAT Essay

You’re here, no doubt, so you can ace the SAT essay. Your mind is made up; you’ll do literally anything to earn that perfect score. You’ll denounce the adorable Betty White. You’ll write a defense of that really bad Independence Day sequel. You’ll happily write whatever drivel they want. All you need to know is what they’re looking for.

So what is that, exactly?

To answer this question, it’s helpful to think like the test-maker. And that requires a quick history lesson.

The SAT essay used to be a persuasive essay. They gave you a prompt, and you had to write an impassioned essay taking a side. To help make your case, you had to cite evidence and reasoning to support your answer, all in 25 minutes.

What was wrong with this approach, you ask? The problem is that students did one of two things: 1) they panicked, because they needed outside knowledge or experience; or 2) they simply made up their evidence. “Studies have shown that 96% of kindergartners hate lemurs.” Or, “I know about nuclear proliferation because I survived the a-bomb.” Since the SAT readers couldn’t fact check the essays, such “facts” were perfectly admissible. Over the years, it got a little silly.

So the SAT did a total 180. Now, the SAT essay is 100% analytical. You’re given a text, and you have 50 minutes to analyze how the author built his or her argument. They want to see your critical thinking, even if it’s the sort of critical thinking that only exists in school and has no real-world application.

Basically, they want to know if you have the skills to write a college-level paper.

So, the bad news is the essay got even more boring.

But the good news is you don’t have to worry about pulling evidence (real or fake) out of thin air. Everything you need is right there on the page. When I used to teach the old essay, coming up with good evidence was almost always the hardest part for students. If you’ve been paying attention in English class, this will be a breeze.

(Here’s an official video from the College Board explaining the Redesigned SAT essay. Warning: it’s about as exciting as a root canal.)

Understanding the Scoring

The SAT Essay isn’t factored into your score out of 1600. It’s a totally separate score. Once you decide to take the SAT Essay, it will always be reported with your test score, meaning you can’t opt to withhold your Essay score from the rest of the score report. And did you know? For every score you report, colleges can actually view your essay online. The College Board gives admissions officers institutional access codes. Welcome to the 21st century.

So while it’s hard to imagine every overworked admissions officer logging in to read every applicant’s essay, your SAT Essay is more visible to colleges than it was in my day…back when we had to chisel our essays on clay tablets.

So how is your essay scored? You’re going to be given scores in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each reader will give you between 1 and 4 points in each category, and two readers will read your essay. So that’s a total of 8 points you can earn for each area. It’s probably smart to check out the specific language in the rubric for yourself.

Truthfully, these sorts of rubrics make my eyes roll because there’s so much crossover. Can you imagine an essay that “makes skillful use of textual evidence” (that’s the Reading score) but fails to offer “insightful analysis of the source text” (that’s the Analysis score)? Somewhere, a trained SAT reader is screaming, “No, they’re totally different.”

Whatever. But we should probably take a closer look at these categories anyway.


How do they evaluate your reading abilities? Obviously, they’re not going to plant a camera in the test room and watch you read the passage (at least, I hope not). Rather, it’s your job to show that you’ve read the passage. SAT graders want to see “an understanding of the text’s central idea,” which means you should talk about the author’s main point. They also want to hear about “the most important details and how they interrelate.” That means you need to talk about the flow of the ideas. There are good ways and bad ways to do this, and we’ll talk about them in a bit. And it goes without saying that you need to cite “textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both).”


It isn’t enough to show you understood what you read. You need to offer an “evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements.” In other words, talk about how the author makes their point. This is probably the most tedious part of the essay, but it must be done. You’ll make it easier on yourself (and you’ll get a better score) if you can use the language of analysis, which we’ll talk about below.


You know the standard intro-body-conclusion format you’ve been taught for years? That’s exactly what they want to see: “a skillful introduction and conclusion.” And you’d better have “a precise central claim,” which is code for thesis. And your body paragraphs can’t be random; they need to show “a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.” So that’s at the structural level, but your prose matter, too: “wide variety in sentence structures,” “precise word choice,” “formal style and objective tone,” “virtually free of errors.” There’s nothing fancy here. You’ve been practicing your whole school career for this.

So what can you do to ace the Redesigned SAT essay?

Read the Passage Twice

Obviously, you need to read the passage. But before you start breaking it down and analyzing it, just read it through. Let it form an impression. Maybe it makes you feel patriotic. Or sad, or angry, or scared. Maybe you believe what the speaker is telling you. Maybe you’re suspicious.

Once you’ve finished, ask yourself some basic questions. Did you like it? Did you hate it? What was your favorite part? What was your least favorite part? Were you moved or touched? Were you persuaded?

Once you have an impression, then go back and read it a second time. Now you’re ready to analyze. Break it down and figure out the tools the author used.

Pay Attention to Beginnings and Endings

The framing of a story has a huge effect on how we remember it. The Wizard of Oz is really different when told from the perspective of the witch or the tinman. So look carefully at how the text begins and ends.

Does the speaker establish a tone at the start? Are any themes introduced? Is the beginning energetic and bombastic, or is it a slow approach? Is this a story with heroes and villains?

Does the ending issue a call to action? Does it return to any previously-established themes? Does it try to unite the audience, or does it create an us-versus-them distinction?

Arm Yourself with Literary Buzzwords

Literary buzzwords add some serious wow-factor to your essays. They show the reader you’re smart, you care, and you’re thinking analytically. So on your second read-through, start marking up the text. Make annotations in the margins, using the words below. Do you see the words “like” or “as” anywhere? Maybe those are similes. Spot any unusual words? Those might be imagery, or symbols, or figurative language. Does any phrase appear more than once? That’s repetition! Get it?

Bottom line, these words are like weapons. Using them correctly will give you major street cred with SAT graders.

Double Meaning

Eventually, you’ll be able to construct smart-sounding sentences like this:

“When Churchill characterizes America as ‘the New World’ and juxtaposes her to the European ‘old’ world, he alludes to the common heritage of both.”

Again, it all starts with marking up the text, just like you would for a passage analysis assignment in school. Here’s how this might look…

Plan Your Essay

When the clock starts, you’re going to feel the urge to start writing.


Make an outline first.

Or at least something resembling it. It doesn’t have to be something you’d show your teacher. Just make a list of points you want to make. Let that list serve as a rough guide for the topic sentences of each of your paragraphs. Come up with a thesis statement to pull it all together. Doing so now will save you much erasing and gnashing of teeth.

Remember, good structure counts. Your topic sentences, generally speaking, should hearken back to your thesis. It’s easy to forget the whole if you don’t have a basic blueprint. If you plan your essay, you won’t run off the rails.

Don’t Go Paragraph By Paragraph!

Some students analyze the passage paragraph-by-paragraph, moving through the passage from top to bottom. “Paragraph One says…Paragraph Two says…”

This is a sure way to get a low score.

You need to make an argument. An argument is more than a series of observations. An argument actually builds toward something. Analyze and synthesize, young grasshopper.

Making an argument is sort of like telling a story. You have to combine all these different elements into one, unified narrative. Imagine that the speaker is the hero of a story. They have a goal, and everything they do is about accomplishing that goal. Your argument is basically a statement about a) what they do; and b) why they do it.

Take a look at all your observations about the text. Then think about the speaker, the audience, the occasion. Why did the speaker make these choices? What’s the intent? If you can fit that succinctly into one sentence, that’s your thesis.

Crafting a unified argument is all about the thesis.

For the SAT essay, your thesis should be a global claim that helps to illuminate the whole passage. It may seem unnatural. It may be awkward to write. If it feels weird or forced, you’re not alone. As guru Erica Meltzer has said, the SAT Essay is weird: “almost never will [students] spend an entire assignment focusing exclusively on the manner in which someone else presents an argument.” But that’s exactly what they’re asking you to do. So, with that said, just take the plunge.

“Citing historical events and using language of continuity, Churchill appeals to the listener’s sense of duty in defending England from invasion.”

It may not be creative, but it gets the job done, and it’s a great way to launch into your body paragraphs.

Without a unifying idea, the paragraph-by-paragraph method will leave you with a bunch of loose strands, leading nowhere. Instead, think of your paragraphs as a series of branches all growing out of your thesis. Every paragraph you write should be about growing the thesis, exploring it, explaining it, and—most especially—demonstrating it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying it’s bad to pull evidence from every paragraph; drawing evidence from throughout the essay is a great idea. It shows you’re taking the whole into account, and it will keep your scope from getting too narrow. Just make sure the ideas (device, theme, purpose) come first.

Write a Solid Intro

A solid intro needs a solid thesis. And really, that’s the main event.

But wait! Your intro needs more than just a thesis. You need to provide some context first. You might tell us who the author is and what she or he is trying to do. Above all, you need to convince the reader you actually care (even though you don’t).

“In his speech dated 4 June 1940, Winston Churchill spells out England’s preparations for the coming invasion of the German military during World War II. Apart from these practical matters, however, the speech is also meant to inspire the British Parliament to do everything possible to aid the effort. [NOW the thesis!] Citing historical events and using language of continuity, Churchill appeals to the listener’s sense of duty in defending England from invasion.”

You needn’t know anything about the text beyond what they give you. But if you do know something, feel free to throw it in.

“It is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.”

This draws in the reader, and it shows you care.

Get Specific in your Supporting Paragraphs

So now you’re into the body paragraphs, which are all about finding supporting evidence and offering your analysis. Good analysis requires specific details. Don’t just say, “Churchill uses repetition.” So what? Get specific! Tell your reader what is repeated, and why.

“Churchill repeats the phrase ‘We shall fight’ to affirm his country’s resolve to resist the Nazi invasion.”

Notice how that was more specific? Notice how we’ve also inferred a why—a purpose? The purpose—the effect on the reader—is the entire point.

Take Your Conclusion A Step Beyond

Lots of conclusions simply restate the ideas already discussed. Restating is fine to do, but it misses an opportunity. The conclusion is your closing argument; it’s your chance to appeal to the reader’s emotions.

“Churchill, facing the onslaught of war, utilizes pathos to evoke a love of country, steeling his people for the task ahead.”

Mixing good observation with vivid language will take your conclusion to the next level.

Embrace the BS

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself making claims that seem a bit far-fetched. You can’t really know for sure what the author was thinking. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; calling it something else might seem like BS. But cast your doubts aside. Embrace the BS. As Harry Bauld has said, when BS reaches a certain (very high) level, it is called thinking, and when it finds a voice, it is called literature.

With regard to Adolf Hitler’s plans for conquering English, Winston Churchill remarked:

“We are told Herr Hitler has a plan for the invasion of England. This has often been thought of before.”

These sentences makes use of the passive voice. “This has…been thought of.” It’s dismissive, like Churchill doesn’t think much of Hitler and his great plan, or anyone else’s plans to overtake his country. Now, did Churchill really make a conscious decision to use the passive voice here? Maybe. Maybe not. But go for it. It’s a cool insight, and it shows you’re thinking.

“Churchill uses the passive voice to show his contempt for Hitler’s invasion plan, dismissing it as unoriginal and, perhaps, subject to the same fate as other English enemies from history.”


(But don’t get silly. “Poe puts a space between his words to symbolize the abyss in his heart.” Come on, brah.)

Know Your Audience

Each reader will spend approximately 1 minute reading your essay. That’s it. So for goodness sake, don’t labor over every word. You may very well be destined for a life of literary greatness, and future scholars may someday fight to the death over the hidden meanings of your mysterious prose. But for this essay, keep it simple. Use plain language that’s easy to understand at a read speed of 500 words a minute.

But that doesn’t give you license to write poorly, either! Too many short, choppy sentences will break the reader’s flow. Even worse, if your run-on sentences are so convoluted the reader can’t remember what you were trying to say, you’ll definitely lose points. Good writing still counts, so think about the purpose of each sentence before you put pen to paper.

I’m an Advice Junkie. Give me more!

Definitely read some sample essays. The College Board has some on their website (link below). And I’m not the first to write about the SAT Essay, so I’ve posted links to some other advice articles.

And of course, North Avenue is a great test-prep resource for Portland-area families. So drop us a line. We’d love to help.

College Board: Sample SAT Essays
US News & World Report: 3 Steps for Writing a Strong SAT Essay
Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.
Erica Meltzer on the SAT Essay


Tackling the SAT Math Subject Tests


Since teachers and schools grade differently, the SAT Subject Tests provide colleges with a standardized assessment of a student’s knowledge in a particular subject area. Many colleges require two or three SAT Subject Tests for admission—visiting prospective college websites to research admissions requirements will help you plan your tests accordingly—and some colleges even require specific Subject Tests. For example, Math Level 2 is often required for pre-medicine programs since their freshmen coursework presumes mastery of this information.

Students interested in pursuing a math-based field of study such as engineering, mathematics, physics, or chemistry should consider taking a Math SAT Subject Test to demonstrate your ability and interest.

Even if a student is not planning on going into a math- or science-based field may want to consider taking a Math SAT Subject Test. If the student has done consistently well in their high school math courses, for example, high Math SAT Subject Test scores demonstrate to colleges that she or he is academically well-rounded.

Although each student’s academic strengths and interests should help determine their selection, a rule of thumb for taking three Subject Tests might look like this:

  • one math test (preferably Math Level 2);
  • one humanities test (History or Literature);
  • one science test.

Students should decide which (if any) of the SAT Subject Tests they plan to take by the end of their junior year. With enough forethought, students have the time to plan when to take each test and, of course, how to study for them. Students should plan to take Subject Tests when they have the highest chance of success.

If a student is taking Precalculus during their sophomore year, he or she should highly consider taking taking the Math Level 2 SAT Subject Test (which covers concepts through Precalculus) in May or June after they have completed this course and the information is freshest in their minds.

If a student is going take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests around the same time, such as the end of junior year, he or she should consider taking the SAT first, since studying for the math section of the general SAT will overlap with Math SAT Subject Test preparation.


And remember, while you can take up to three (3) SAT Subject Tests in a single day, you cannot take the SAT and a SAT Subject Test on the same test date.

Just as with the SAT, the Subject Tests have registration deadlines (at least a month in advance), and the tests are offered in October, November, December, January, May, and June.

If you or your student is unsure about how to navigate the SAT Subject Tests, we recommend to err on the side of caution. Take the tests. Since most students don’t finalize their college lists until the summer before senior year, they may not realize they need SAT Subject Tests until they are busy with their senior year and have little time to prepare. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

The question then becomes—which Level of Math Subject Test should I take?


Before diving into differences in content, here are some overarching similarities.

Both Math Level 1 and Level 2 SAT Subject Tests are one hour long, contain 50 questions, and are scored on a scale from 200 to 800.

Also, the tests are graded the same: one point for a correct answer, a quarter point subtracted for an incorrect answer, and no points for a blank question.

Both tests allow the use of either a multi-function or graphing calculator (we highly recommend a graphing calculator like the TI-84), and for each, some questions are solved faster without a calculator than with one. (Strategies, such as deciding when to utilize a calculator and in what way, will be discussed in a forthcoming blog post on test-taking techniques.)

Now, let’s delve into the particulars.

The content of the Math Level 1 and Level 2 SAT Subject Tests can be broken up into four major categories:

  • Numbers + Operations
  • Algebra + Functions
  • Geometry + Measurement
  • Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability

Tables 1+2 below illustrate how these four categories are represented in each test.

SAT Math Level 1

Table 1: SAT Math Level 1

SAT Math Level 2

Table 2: SAT Math Level 2


Here’s the long and short for content:

  • Math Level 1 covers mathematical concepts taught in two years of Algebra, one year of Geometry, and very basic Trigonometry.
  • Math Level 2 covers the same material plus more advanced Trigonometry and Precalculus. And, while the Math Level 2 Subject Test will not directly test Plane (Euclidean) Geometry, mastery of this topic will be a required foundation for understanding test questions on Solid Geometry, Coordinate Geometry, and Trigonometry.


While Math Level 2 covers more material, it is not necessarily harder. Math Level 2 has historically offered a much more forgiving scoring curve than Math Level 1, awarding tests with up to seven (7) skipped answers a perfect 800.

In contrast, a Math Level 1 test with only one or two incorrect answers will get immediately bumped down to 790. In addition, Math Level 1 tests on fewer concepts so there are more abstract and multi-step problems.

By the same token, Math Level 2 test questions tend to take fewer steps to solve and be more straightforward; they just pull from a more expansive range of topics. If you’ve taken Precalculus, those concepts should be fresh in your mind. And, if you have Precalculus on your high school transcript, colleges will expect you to take Math Level 2.


If you know you want to apply to colleges that require Math Level 2, make sure that you are on track to complete math courses through Precalculus either your junior year or the summer before your senior year at the latest. The best preparation for a Math SAT Subject Test is a solid foundation in three or four years of high school level math courses. Of course, life is not always so neat—so give yourself a good two months to review concepts and fill gaps in your mathematical knowledge!

At the beginning of this earnest studying time, we recommend you take a diagnostic exam from a test prep book to approximate how you would do on the test at that moment: that’s your baseline score. With that initial score, you can set a goal for your score on the actual test.

To be competitive for Ivy League colleges and other selective schools, a score of 750 or higher is expected.

For less selective and other small liberal arts schools, a 700 score or higher would be a strong asset for your application.
Depending on the intensity of your study plans, you might consider working with a tutor.

After you have your baseline and goal score and are ready to prep for a few months, we suggest taking a practice test about once a week, and then in between those tests working for at least 3-4 hours on content gaps that arise.

A good way to keep track of which topics need work is to keep a spreadsheet, cataloging incorrectly answered practice test questions by topic (and sub-topic). This method keeps your review work targeted and ensures your precious study hours are spent as efficiently as possible.


About four weeks before the test, it’s time to reevaluate: now that you are nearing the finish line, how close to your goal have you come?

If your practice test results are lining up with your score goal, keep with it! Maintain your studying schedule to keep the material fresh in your mind, and see if you can exceed your own expectations. If you’re not making the progress you’d like to see, consider increasing your studying hours, reaching out to your math teacher, or joining forces with a tutor to come up with a new plan. To get in touch with us about setting or reaching your score goal, email Student Services at, or give us a call at 503/468-6905!

Helpful SAT Math Subject Test Resources