Mistakes on the SAT can be costly. At most levels on the 800-point scoring scale for a given section, each question is worth about 10 points; this means that just a few careless errors, misreads, or pacing lapses can drop your overall score significantly. Don’t want that to happen to you? We don’t either! Here are a few common SAT mistakes along with tips on how to avoid them.
Making It a Race
Unlike the tests you take in school, the SAT isn’t designed to be easily completed within the time allotted. While getting to every question is ideal, it’s not necessary for improving your score. This goes especially if you’re racing through questions just to make it to the end of the section. Keep this fact in mind: quality is better than quantity. Your goal should be to maximize the number of questions you answer correctly. Be smart about the parts of the section where you direct your focus. For example, if question difficulty increases as the section moves on, it may be better to focus on accuracy in the early and middle parts of the section rather than to race through those and hit a wall on the difficult questions.
Taking Too Long On Some Questions
We’ve all encountered questions we can’t let go. Remember that ACT Reading question that had two equally appealing answer choices? Remember the SAT Math problem whose multiple choice options didn’t match the one you calculated and re-calculated? While completing a question and feeling confident in your answer is gratifying, it can be more harmful than helpful if it means losing several minutes. By investing so much time into a single question, you cut down on the time you’d have to answer two or three additional (and quite possibly easier) questions—trading three questions for one is a losing proposition for anyone’s test score.
You’ve got to get comfortable with moving on. If you haven’t made progress on a question within the first minute, it’s best to flag it and revisit it later. Sometimes, simply taking a second look a few minutes after your first attempt makes all the difference. When and if you don’t get to all of the questions, make sure to fill in your best guess (or a random one). Remember that neither test penalizes for incorrect answers; they both simply reward correct answers.
Not Reading Carefully
This should go without saying, but it is essential that you read every word of a question before you start thinking about it. This is because a single word can change the meaning of a sentence. Here’s an example.
Which of the following findings would most strongly undermine the author’s claims?
Many students will mistakenly read the word undermine as underline. In this context, this swap would make it seem as if the question were asking for a finding that would support the author’s claims, when in reality it is looking for just the opposite.
To reduce the incidence of this error, try circling or boxing the key words that appear in questions, forcing yourself to focus on exactly the most specific parts of the questions. Stop for a second and consciously think about what a given word means, the evidence you need to find to obtain your answer, and so on.
Cut Down on Mistakes through Practice
The best way to prevent making these mistakes is to take timed full-length tests (or timed individual practice sections) using official, released exams. Simulated tests will help you adjust your pace through each section and become comfortable with the content and style of your test of choice.
To learn how Method Test Prep can help you eliminate your mistakes and raise your score, click here.