6 Common SAT Study Mistakes

Ready to start prepping (or not so ready)? Below are some critical tips you want to keep in mind before you try to ascend the daunting summit known as SAT prep.


1. Mostly practicing what you are already good at

There is something to be said for mastery: you become very good in one area and can wow yourself and sometimes others. But the SAT isn’t a one-trick pony. There are many skills required some that might come naturally, others that you dread like

Take a practice test and discover your strong points and your weak points. If it quickly becomes apparent that you don’t know the difference between veracious and voracious, then you should tackle vocabulary. If the math questions are worded in highly confusing way, don’t avoid them. Learn to understand the phrasing. Though it is hard to improve weak areas, if you tackle them consistently they will start to become, less and less, areas in which you struggle.


2. Not watering your garden

Flower and plants periodically need water to grow, or they will wilt. Likewise, you can’t just learn a few concepts or vocabulary words and think you own them. You must go back and review and strengthen what you learn. Like flowers growing in the garden, this renewed “watering” will result in deeper more robust knowledge.

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3. Getting tunnel vision

Yes the metaphors abound! From gardens to tunnels, we are all still dealing with the same topic: covering study material. One thing you don’t want to do is to become so obsessed with one topic—even if it was once a weakness—that you forget to study other areas (it would be like watering this one flowerbed while the rest of your garden looks like it got hit by severe drought).

A good way to combat this tendency is to periodically do mixed practice sets. Doing an SAT section is perfect, since every section—and not just the entire test—is a random mixture of the very concepts that could pop up test day.


4. Procrastination

One sure way to render all of the above advice moot is to leave your prep till the last minute. Some think they’ll do a couple of hours prep for a few days leading up to the exam. Think again. Your brain is in cram mode for a test that has a knowledge base and skill set requirement rivaling fluency in a foreign language. It’s like ripping open a Spanish phrasebook for the first time on a flight to Barcelona and then saying “Buenos dias” (the only phrase you remember) to everyone you meet.

Unlike a foreign language you barely know, the SAT will have skills that you have already learnt, to some degree, in school. But you’ll need to hone these skills and review material that you haven’t seen in years. And when your brain is in cram mode, a fight-or-flight response occurs. That’s where you are on edge, your pulse constantly racing. This might be good for outrunning (or at least trying to outrun) a grizzly bear, but won’t help you remember the difference between grizzly and grisly.  In other words, learning happens when you allow yourself to become deeply absorbed in the material; a racing pulse will prevent that from happening.


5. Always having the clock running

Yes, the SAT is a timed test. But that doesn’t mean you always need to have the timer running. Remember the harmful flight-or-fight response mentioned in the previous paragraph? Well, that’s on overdrive when the clock is ticking. Few things are more inimical than stress to the formation of new memories and skills.

So turn off that timer at the beginning and give yourself breathing room to learn, review, and really understand the concepts. Once you feel that the concepts come a little more naturally incorporate a timer. And I should reiterate that: you will, at some point, have to use a timer during your prep. Since you don’t want that flight-or-fight response to roar to life when you sit down to take the actual test.


6. Picking up any SAT prep book

So, I’ve gotten your attention—and you’re ready to study. Well, off to the library to pick up an SAT book. But not so fast. All SAT prep books are not created equally (this goes for online programs too). Do your research, read reviews, speak to friends, etc.

I’ll tell you this much. The College Board book, which contains SAT content from the creators of the test, is indispensible for practice material, but you will also want to pick up another book, one that offers comprehensive explanations and more tips and strategies.



  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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