Mathematics is a universal language, but the way it’s taught and assessed can vary significantly across countries. For Romanian students aiming to take the SAT, a standardized test used for college admissions primarily in the U.S., the differences between the math they learn in school and the math tested on the SAT can be quite noticeable. Understanding these differences is essential for Romanian students who want to succeed in this international exam.
“The mathematics studied in the traditional Romanian educational system differs significantly from that required to prepare for the SAT. The Romanian curriculum provides a comprehensive and indepth study of mathematical concepts, including advanced topics and rigorous problemsolving methods. In contrast, the SAT focuses on practical application and problem solving in specific contexts, with a more streamlined curriculum that includes algebra, data analysis and some advanced mathematics. The Romanian system emphasizes theoretical understanding and detailed proofs, while the SAT tests practical skills and efficiency in solving problems. As a result, students preparing for the SAT may need to adjust their approach to focus on practical problemsolving and testtaking strategies rather than solely on theoretical knowledge,” explained Dr. Georgiana Popovici who has a PhD in Mathematics, specialty Mathematical Statistics and is the founder of Creative Learning Hub.
One of the most notable differences between math education in Romania and the math portion of the SAT is the focus of the curriculum.
Romanian Math: In Romania, mathematics education, particularly in high school, places a heavy emphasis on theoretical understanding, rigorous proofs, and abstract concepts. Romanian students are expected to master areas like advanced algebra, trigonometry, and geometry in a more formal, theoretical manner. Concepts like matrix operations, advanced calculus, and complex numbers are often introduced early, with students focusing on derivations, proofs, and complex problemsolving techniques.
SAT Math: On the other hand, the SAT math section focuses much more on practical problemsolving and applied mathematics. While it does cover algebra, geometry, and some trigonometry, the focus is on how students apply these concepts to realworld scenarios. SAT questions often involve word problems where students must figure out how to translate everyday situations into mathematical equations. The math tested is typically less abstract and more about ensuring students can solve problems efficiently, without the need for formal proofs.
Another thing that differentiates than is the complexity of topics.
Romanian Math: Romanian high school students, especially those in science or mathematicsfocused tracks, are exposed to more advanced topics. The curriculum dives into topics like polynomials, rational functions, and complex equations. In subjects like geometry, students work on advanced constructions, transformations, and theoretical properties of shapes.
SAT Math: In contrast, SAT math sticks to a more basic level of content. The test focuses on core areas like:

 Algebra: Linear equations, systems of equations, and inequalities.
 Geometry and Trigonometry: Primarily basic properties of shapes, the Pythagorean theorem, sine, cosine, and tangent.
 Data Analysis: Basic statistics, such as mean, median, and interpreting graphs.
The SAT does not test higherlevel concepts like calculus or matrix operations, and trigonometry is limited to basic problems like finding the sine of an angle.
Another key difference lies in the format of the tests.
Romanian Math Exams: In Romania, national exams (such as the Baccalaureate) often feature long, multipart problems that require several steps and a deep understanding of mathematical theories. Romanian students are trained to solve complex problems from start to finish, often showing detailed work to demonstrate how they arrived at their answers.
SAT Math: The SAT consists of multiplechoice questions and gridins (studentproduced response questions). The test is more focused on time management and quick problemsolving. Most questions are designed to be completed in a minute or two. The SAT does not require the same level of stepbystep explanation as Romanian exams, but it does demand accuracy and the ability to reason through problems quickly.
And last, but not the least, there are cultural and educational system differences.
Romanian Math Education: The Romanian education system is generally structured in a way that prioritizes rigorous theoretical foundations in subjects like mathematics. Students, especially those on the “real” track (science and mathoriented tracks), receive deep instruction in a broad range of mathematical topics, often at a more challenging level than their international peers. Romanian math competitions and Olympiads are also extremely competitive, pushing students to master more complex concepts than are required for standard tests like the SAT.
U.S. SAT: The SAT is designed as a broadly accessible standardized test for students of varying academic backgrounds across the United States and internationally. Its math section aims to assess how well students can apply basic mathematical principles, which are deemed essential for collegelevel work, rather than testing their mastery of advanced theoretical concepts.
While Romanian mathematics education provides a strong theoretical foundation, the SAT math section requires a more practical, problemsolving approach. For Romanian students, understanding and adapting to the SAT’s focus on applied math, quick reasoning, and realworld scenarios is crucial for success on the test. By supplementing their rigorous mathematical knowledge with targeted SAT preparation, Romanian students can bridge the gap and perform well on this international exam.
Yet, no matter how mathematics may differ from one system to another, from one exam to another, it gravitates around the same concepts.
“Mathematics, regardless of how it is taught, involves the same concepts, and I believe what matters most is the students’ engagement. That’s why I strive to instill a love for the subject in them, to spark their curiosity to explore, to question themselves, and especially to make connections with real life. Because yes, mathematics can be encountered even in jobs where the field of activity is not directly related to mathematics. The key is to inspire a mindset that recognizes the value of mathematical thinking and problemsolving in various contexts, beyond the confines of academic study,” concluded Dr. Georgiana Popovici.