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Do I Need Algebra II?


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“What level of math should I complete before I take the SAT?”

Every year I have juniors tell me they can’t take the SAT because they are “only” in Algebra II. They’ve heard the SAT includes math through Algebra II and are worried about taking the SAT before completing the course.

It is true that the SAT includes concepts taught in math through Algebra II, the course the College Board assumes most juniors across the country will be taking. But the Algebra II concepts tests on the SAT are basic and most students will have learned them in Algebra I or the first semester of Algebra II.

Officially the College Board doesn’t divide questions according to the course in which the material would be taught. Instead they group questions according to concepts. Here’s what the College Board says about Algebra:

Just over a third of the mathematics questions address the following concepts:

  • Substitution and simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Properties of exponents
  • Algebraic word problems
  • Solutions of linear equations and inequalities
  • Systems of equations and inequalities
  • Quadratic equations
  • Rational and radical equations
  • Equations of lines
  • Absolute value
  • Direct and inverse variation
  • Concepts of algebraic functions
  • Newly defined symbols based on commonly used operations

In my experience, students have been exposed to all these concepts in Algebra I. The underlying question really is about a student’s confidence and ability. In my area, stronger math students take Algebra I in 8th grade and by junior year are taking Pre-Calculus. Students who struggle in math wait a year to take Algebra I and by junior year are only beginning Algebra II. So the math class represents a struggle with concepts and skills more than it is a lack of information needed to solve questions.

To answer the question, you should take the SAT for the first time your junior year no matter what level of math you are taking at school. It is more important to complete your first attempt at the SAT than to finish an entire year of Algebra II.

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