Math 1 vs. Math 2

Around this time of year a lot of high school students are sweating over the question, “Should I take the Math 1 or Math 2 Subject Test?” Both are 60 minutes long and all multiple choice, and allow calculators. The Math 1 tests material commonly learned in Geometry, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, and the Math 2 includes Pre-calculus. Both tests also have 50 questions that go in order of increasing difficulty, and they are scored on the standard 800 scale like SAT sections and other subject tests. The best way to know whether or not you should attempt the Math II over the Math I is to try a full, timed, actual practice Math 2 test (not a Princeton Review or Kaplan test, but an actual past test created by the College Board).

However, here are a few things to think about that may help steer you one way or another. Above all, the Math 2 is a significantly harder test than the Math 1. While both test similar material, the Math 2 manages to be trickier, test more specific material (formulas, equations, problem solving methods), and be much harder to finish in the 60-minute time limit. Traditionally, the Math 2 has been a test for top math students – for future physics, engineering or math majors or those who want to show that they excel in math. This doesn’t mean you have to be the best in your class to attempt the Math II, but the test is not for everyone. Another factor to consider is the scoring scale. Curiously, the Math 1 has the more forgiving percentile scale, while the Math 2 has a more forgiving score scale.

An example: To get an 800 on the Math 1, you cannot miss any questions, and you would be in the 99+ percentile (meaning you scored better than 99% of students taking the test across the country). On the Math 2, you can typically skip 3-5 questions and still score an 800, yet you would still only be in the 88th percentile. This means that roughly 12% of students taking the Math 2 score an 800. Also, keep in mind that it is significantly tougher to get the same amount of questions correct on the Math 1. Here is a table illustrating some scoring and percentage examples:

Score: 800
Math 1
Math 2
Score: 700
Math 1
Math 2
Score: 600
Math 1
Math 2
Score: 500
Math 1
Math 2

Bottom Line?

[list type=”check”]

  • If you’re applying to MIT, Harvey Mudd, CIT or an engineering college, you will probably need the Math 2.
  • If you don’t think you will be able to score over a 700 on the Math 2, consider the Math 1.  You might achieve a similar score, but a much higher percentile.
  • The Math 1 and Math 2 are offered on seven test dates throughout the school year, from October to June.  If you’re in the 10th grade and not quite ready now, consider taking either test next year.
  • Students who take the Math II after taking AP AB or BC Calculus often find that they have forgotten some Pre-Calculus.  However, students who take it after a month of Calculus (in October or November), often do well (if they are doing well in class).


Again, if you still have questions about which test is best for you, take an actual College Board practice test and then consult your tutor.  Good luck!!

Latest Posts