Common SAT Math Mistakesadmin
17 Common SAT Math Mistakes You Probably Are Committing and How to Fix them
Considering how challenging the Math portion of the SAT/ACT can be, it’s easy to see how doing well in this section can help you gain a competitive edge. The good news? This is easier to pull off than you think.
How come? Too many Math SAT test takers make simple, easy to avoid mistakes. Don’t commit these errors and you stand a good chance of CRUSHING the competition. Just by being aware and actively seeking to work around the following common mistakes, you will position yourself for a better overall SAT score.
Common Mistake #1
Fail to doublecheck
Too many SAT test takers assume that the SAT gives just enough time to answer questions and move on. This is flat out wrong!
The SAT is formulated to give you enough time to doublecheck your answers. Sure, it may not feel like it but this is the truth.
How can you find the time to properly doublecheck your answers? Keep taking practice exams with all the seriousness and urgency they require. You’ll eventually get so used to it, you’ll have enough time leftover to properly doublecheck your answers.
Common Mistake #2
You get values confused and solve the wrong one
One very common trick the SAT’s Math section plays on unwitting test takers is to bombard them with all sorts of numbers and figures. The question then asks for the value of one item at the end of a long description.
Survive these questions quickly by a) reading them very closely b) clearly identifying the question and the specific value being asked and c) refusing to jump to the answer options immediately. Chances are, your ‘gut’ instinct (based on a quick scan of the question) will be flat out wrong.
Read the details again and mark or circle parts of the description as needed. When you’re clear about the question, you boost your chances of coming up with the right answer.
Common Mistake #3
You have lousy test taking habits
If you habitually race through a test question’s description or details, don’t be surprised if you blow the question.
If you habitually rely on your ‘gut instinct’ after scanning question details, don’t be shocked if you get a big fat ZERO for that question.
Habits matter. It’s normal to feel anxious as the test timer counts down. Develop the right habits to properly manage your time and boost your attention to detail.
These are not revolutionary nor do they involve super ninja skills.
Things like reading carefully, entering numbers into your calculator with care or refusing to scan answers before you thoroughly understand the question can save your skin! Make these (and many others) a habit.
Common Mistake #4
You run out of time
Bad pacing can lead to test disaster. If you spend too much time on some questions, you might not be able to answer the rest of the questions. You might even be tempted to guess and this can have catastrophic consequences for your final score.
Work around this common mistake by taking Math section practice tests several times. Keep going over them. Do at least one test daily. Give yourself enough lead time and you’ll be able to read and knock out questions smoothly and efficiently. It all boils down to teaching yourself proper pacing and avoiding getting intimidated by the clock’s countdown.
Common Mistake #5
You refuse to take practice tests seriously enough
It’s natural for SAT test takers to take practice exams less seriously than ‘the real thing.’ After all, they are busy and have other stuff to do.
The problem is, if you don’t place proper importance on practice tests and refuse to operate with a high enough sense of urgency level, you run the risk of developing a toxic attitude about your test.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself telling yourself (after every disappointing practice exam result), “this is just practice, I’ll turn on the juice for the REAL TEST!’
Don’t fall for this trap. If you don’t turn on the juice now as you take practice exams, you might not have built enough competence and proficiency for you to CRUSH the real deal!
Common Mistake #6
Refusing to draw diagrams clearly enough
Some questions can only be answered if you draw diagrams. Don’t think that rushing through a small, incomplete, or badly-developed diagram would help you. In fact, the result you get might be just as bad if you hadn’t drawn one at all!
If you are going to be using diagrams to guide you to the right answer, take the time to make it clear enough for you to understand. Make sure it is the right scale and it all makes sense to you.
Common Mistake #7
Allowing yourself to be intimidated by long question forms and jumping to the ‘stuff that matters’
If you rush reading through a long form question, you are probably leaving something out. This might be an important enough detail that might make it impossible for you to pick out the right answer choice.
Actually read the long questions. You don’t have to memorize each line. Just make sure you clearly understand them.
Common Mistake #8
You freak out at question formats you haven’t seen before
Sometimes the SAT would ask a familiar math question in a weird unexpected way. Maybe you’d get a story or you get a table with blank spots. Whatever form it takes, you get so thrown off by the question format that you forget that it is still a math question.
The solution? Keep taking SAT math tests to avoid getting freaked out by unexpected formats. Learn to break these formats down into standard basic equation forms you’re more familiar with. You’ll quickly discover that these ‘weird’ questions aren’t all that weird at all.
Common Mistake #9
Fail to write down steps you process with a calculator
If you just quickly input numbers into your calculator as you go through steps, it would be harder for you to backtrack if you make a mistake letter in the process. You end up burning precious time. You also have a tougher time figuring out which part of the chain you made the mistake in.
Document everything by quickly jotting down each step.
Common Mistake #10
Locking in an answer too quickly
After doing the necessary work and finding the ‘right answer’, make it a habit to read the question again. You might have missed an important detail or understood the question wrong and picked the wrong answer choice.
Common Mistake #11
You are weak on functions
Many students are completely unfamiliar with functions. Maybe they skipped over them in Geometry class. Sadly, these show up enough times in the SAT’s Math portion that you really have no excuse in choosing to ignore functions.
Hoping and wishing certain types of questions don’t appear has never been a winning strategy.
Brush up on functions and avoid getting that deer caught in headlights look come test time.
Common Mistake #12
If asked to select among answer choices by “Which of the following…” size up all answers
If you get a “Which of the following…” type of question, don’t just jump on the first option that seems like the right answer.
Actually REASON through each answer choice quickly, explain to yourself why that option is the wrong one. Everything must make sense to you so you can find a better answer instead of just relying on your initial hunch.
Common Mistake #13
Blanking out on formulas
While the SAT will include some of the most common formulas, it doesn’t list out all the formulas you need to answer all questions given to you.
Make it a point to research all the formulas that historically show up on the SAT. Memorize these using flashcards and test questions.
Common Mistake #14
You try to ‘save time’ by doing mostly number crunching
Stop doing this! When you refuse to write down each line of the problem as you make sense of it and solve it, you end up wasting time when your ‘mental calculation’ doesn’t match any of the answer choices.
Also, mental problem solving leaves you vulnerable to deceptively attractive answers that take advantage of your intuition. These are intentionally included by the test makers to trip you up because these are often mental calculation answers.
Common Mistake #15
Reading into the question’s words the meaning you want
SAT test makers often play with words and if you are in a rush, you miss out on the differences in phrasing. This leads to devastating results.
For example: “increased by (X)” is very different from “increased by a factor of (X)”
Look for plain actual meaning. Don’t ‘plug in’ your perceived meaning in the question
Common Mistake #16
Failing to write out all your steps
If you don’t write down each step, you might miss one or make a bad assumption and end up with the wrong answer. Lay out each step and do the math. This helps you think more clearly and prevents you from getting ahead of yourself.
Common Mistake #17
You entered numbers too quickly into your calculator
As powerful as your calculator may be, it can’t read your mind. If you meant to enter in other numbers or you screw up entering one digit, your calculator will come up with the wrong answer.
Usually, your calculator’s answer will not match any of the answer options and you will quickly realize you inputted the wrong numbers.
No biggie? Think again. You have just wasted time calculating the answer and would have to start over again.
By carefully and slowly entering numbers into your calculator, you can save a tremendous amount of time. You may save enough time that you’ll be able to answer all questions or even review your answers.
Keep the 17 common SAT Math section mistakes above in mind so you can 1) spot them in your own work patterns 2) work around them and 3) avoid getting stressed. Ultimately, how well you do on the SAT depends on whether you allow yourself to get stressed. Achieve the right mindset through constant practice. Gain the confidence you need to CRUSH both the test and your competition!