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The Complete Guide to SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics

jamesfordjamesford Registered User Posts: 3,447 Senior Member
edited January 2014 in SAT Subject Tests Preparation
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Post edited by jamesford on
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Replies to: The Complete Guide to SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics

  • jamesfordjamesford Registered User Posts: 3,447 Senior Member
    Since there seems to be a new thread on Math I/II Subject Tests every single day, I decided to post a little guide on FAQ’s and general information so that these types of threads don’t pop up so much.

    I. Background Information
    II. Preparation
    III. Calculator
    IV. Practice Tests
    V. Tips and Tricks
    VI. Free Resources.


    I. Background Information

    1. What are the SAT II’s/Subject Tests?

    SAT Subject Tests are multiple choice standardized tests in specific subject areas that most colleges require for admission. They are offered in October, November, December, January, May, and June, though it varies by test.

    2. How many subject tests do I have to take and how many can I take at a time?

    Many colleges require only two, but some (e.g. Harvard and Georgetown) require three. It never hurts though, to take three tests as they can only help you if you achieve decent scores.

    You may take up to 3 tests at a time. You sign up for specific tests, but you can take any ones you want at the test site. However, if you take more than you signed up for you must pay a fee. Also, don’t take a SAT II if you’re not adept in the field. Kids who are good at their particular subject take the tests, so it’s not like you’re competing against every Joe Shmoe.

    3. Which ones should I take?

    Take them in a variety of fields, but include one that is involved in a field you want to study in. For example, if you plan on majoring in chemistry, take chemistry. Also, some schools like MIT may require specific tests so check their web sites. I would suggest 1 math (preferably math II), 1 humanity (history or literature), and 1 science. If you’re not planning on going into science, you might want to take a language. Keep in mind though that many native speakers take the language tests so the curve is harsher.

    4. What are decent scores?

    For the Ivies and other top caliber schools, 700+ is expected. For less selective schools, mid to high 600’s is decent. Remember that these tests are often required in admission so good scores are necessary!

    5. What are the math subject tests like?

    Each one consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 60 minutes. The questions increase in difficulty as the test progresses. You receive one point for each question answered correctly, lose 1/4 of a point for each question answered incorrectly, and no points for each question left blank.

    6. What’s the difference between Math I and Math II?

    Math I covers material from Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II/Trigonometry. Math II covers all of the material from Math I as well as Precalculus.

    7. What level should I take?

    Unless you haven’t taken Precalculus, it’s in your best interest to take Math II. Math II covers more material, but it has an easier curve. That is to say, you can achieve a score of 43/50 (though it varies year by year) on Math II and still get an 800. You may miss one or two questions on Math I and automatically get bumped down to a 790. In addition, some colleges (like the UC’s) only accept Math II.
  • jamesfordjamesford Registered User Posts: 3,447 Senior Member
    II. Preparation

    Obviously the best preparation is a solid foundation in math achieved by taking good math classes in school. However, we all know that not everyone gets a good math teacher every year. Thus, it becomes necessary to do some work outside of class to prepare.

    Depending on your proficiency level, you will want to set aside 2-4 (or more) weeks to prepare. In my opinion, the best way to prepare is to take and review as many practice tests as possible. I will list various books that will assist you on the path to 800.

    Amazon.com: The Official SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics Levels 1 & 2 Study Guide (Official Sat Subject Tests in Mathematics Levels 1 & 2 Study Guide): The College Board: Books
    This is the official College Board study guide for Math I and II. It does not contain any substantial review material (lessons), but it offers 2 released tests in each of Math I and II. It also provides a scoring key that allows you to estimate what your score would be like on the real test. Real tests are indispensable!

    Amazon.com: The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests (Real Sats): The College Board: Books
    Another CB guide, this book contains one test each for Math I and II. However, it also contains one test for every other subject test, so you can use this book for future SAT Subject Tests.

    Amazon.com: Barron's SAT Subject Test Math Level 2 2008 (Barron's How to Prepare for the Sat II Mathematics, Level Iic): Richard Ku M.A., Howard P. Dodge: Books
    Barron’s Math II is notorious for being MUCH more difficult than the actual Math II test. Don’t buy this book if you’re not looking for an 800. It provides a thorough and excessive review of the material and 6 (overly hard) practice tests. I’ve heard of people getting 600’s on the practice tests who ended up with 800.

    Amazon.com: 15 Realistic Tests for the SAT Math Level 2: With Solutions: Rusen Meylani: Books
    The “RUSH” book, this book has 15 practice tests for you to work through. Like Barron’s, it is harder than the real test, but will prepare you well. Another “don’t buy if you don’t want 800” book.

    Amazon.com: Cracking the SAT Math 1 and 2 Subject Tests, 2007-2008 Edition (College Test Prep): Princeton Review: Books
    Princeton Review is your best option if you are taking Math I or if an 800 is really not that important to you. This book covers both Math I and II. While it may be clearer and more concise than Barron’s, it may not be enough for 800.

    I also suggest using Sparknotes (www.sparknotes.com), which I’ll discuss later.

    In general, you fall into two categories, “must have 800” and “don’t have to have 800 but want a good score

    Must Have 800
    - Barron’s (if you need to review the material)
    - RUSH (if you don’t need to review)

    Don’t Have to Have 800
    - PR (for practice tests and review)

    Both
    - Official CB Guides


    III. Calculator

    A calculator is allowed for both Math I and II. I recommend using a graphing calculator as it makes the problems easier and simply because I can’t stand scientific ones. You’d be a fool to take the test without a calculator.

    The test makers have a way of tricking people into thinking that a calculator is needed for every problem. However, it is often simpler and faster not to use one for certain problems. Clues like decimal answer choices will tip you off that a calculator is needed.

    Amazon.com: Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition Graphing Calculator: Electronics
    I personally use the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. It’s a great calculator and very easy to use. You won’t need anything more for high school math.

    Amazon.com: Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium Graphing Calculator: Electronics
    The TI-89 is a very powerful calculator used in upper levels of math and science. It’s not necessary to do well on Math I and II, but if your school lets you use this, buy it. The things you can do on it are numerous.
  • jamesfordjamesford Registered User Posts: 3,447 Senior Member
    IV. Practice Tests

    So how do you take practice tests? This is clich
  • llpitchllpitch Registered User Posts: 4,318 Senior Member
    Can someone explain how to do matrices on the 89? That's the only type of problem I don't know how to do =/
  • 2by22by2 Registered User Posts: 387 Member
    Thank you JamesFord!
  • anhtimmyanhtimmy Registered User Posts: 3,257 Senior Member
    wow, very nice put.
    kudos to you

    follow this guide to doing the matrix

    Math Menu on the TI-89: Matrix
  • sophengsopheng Registered User Posts: 29 New Member
    wow this was exactly what I was looking for! thanks so much.

    just one more question: i've heard a lot about people saying how this test is basically a test of how well you know your calculator. are there any other programs you have to download onto your calculator that could save you time, come test day, or are those listed above what they were talking about?
  • jamesfordjamesford Registered User Posts: 3,447 Senior Member
    Programs aren't necessary if you know your math. I didn't use any.
  • anhtimmyanhtimmy Registered User Posts: 3,257 Senior Member
    programs are useful if you know how to use them.
    I used a program during the SAT, but it only calculated things that would waste that to do by hand, distance formula, etc.
  • schoolsearchingschoolsearching Registered User Posts: 430 Member
    nice post!
  • sophengsopheng Registered User Posts: 29 New Member
    one more question: what method have you found to be most successful for studying? i mean, a lot of people recommend books to use, but when you're "using" them, did you read through them and take notes, or make flashcards? Are there any other methods that have worked?
  • anhtimmyanhtimmy Registered User Posts: 3,257 Senior Member
    I read through it once, then read though it again (this time taking notes, highlighting), then the practice quizzes.
    For every two questions I would get wrong, I would reread the section again to etch it into my brain

    rinse and repeat, until you get all the practice questions correct.
  • Lu JinnyLu Jinny Registered User Posts: 129 Junior Member
    Thanks, this is a comprehensive and helpful guide. :) It should be stickied!
  • zoaxanthellaezoaxanthellae User Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 846 Member
    Thanks for making this post!

    Few questions [for anyone] about the Math subject tests: if I'm taking Pre-Cal Junior Year, would it be wise to take the Math II in Senior Year or just take Math I now?
  • anhtimmyanhtimmy Registered User Posts: 3,257 Senior Member
    take Math II, it doesn't require Cal
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