Common SAT Mistakes

We all make dumb mistakes, sometimes. When I say “dumb mistake,” I don’t mean a mistake that I (or anybody else) would call stupid. This isn’t about intelligence or how other people judge it. It’s about what you yourself look at and say, “Oh… that was dumb.”

Have you ever done that? Ever looked at a graded essay that’s just been handed back and thought, “Oh. Whoops. Whatever.” …or maybe a math test? “I can’t believe I added instead of subtracting. Psshh.”

It’s easy to get worse results than you should because you’re careless. That’s true on the SAT as it is everywhere else; if you don’t watch yourself, you’re going to lose points for things that you could have avoided. Some of the most common SAT mistakes are simple mistakes you should have avoided.

And—funny thing—because of how SAT scores are calculated, being careless doesn’t just keep you from getting the points you should get. It actually punishes you for slipping up. If you were to just skip the question because it was difficult, you’d actually be better off than by answering the question too quickly and landing specifically on one of the trap answers the test makers set up for careless Joe.

So this is especially important.


Major common SAT mistake – Choosing haste over caution

The SAT isn’t a race. Seriously, your friends aren’t going to high-five you if you beat the guy next to you by five minutes. Make sure you get the answers that you definitely can bag. The low-hanging fruit are your friends, so don’t brush them off.

Depending on the section and type of question, there are a number of different ways to keep yourself from making dumb mistakes.


Common SAT Mistakes in SAT Reading

– In all reading passages, find evidence for your answer before you look at the answer choices.

– Make sure you’re looking at the correct section of the reading passage. If the question gives you line numbers, use them.

– In paired passages, make sure you’re looking at the right passage. Which does the question reference?


Common SAT math errors

– Circle what the question is asking for. Is it the area of the circle or the radius? The value of x or of y?

– Write out each step to solving the problem. Only do the absolutely simplest things in your head. It may seem tedious, but it doesn’t actually take much time. For mid-level things, always use your calculator. Don’t multiply 8 and 12 in your head or on paper.

– ALWAYS write parentheses around substituted things. If you know x = -6, and y = 14 – x, make sure you don’t switch addition and subtraction. Write y = 14 – (-6).

One of the best ways to improve SAT math is to avoid these errors.


Writing Mistakes

Read each “identifying sentence error” question twice. One time for anything that jumps out, another while thinking about common errors for each type of underlined word.

– Plug “improving sentence” and “improving paragraph” answers back into the text after you’ve chosen them. Make sure your choice didn’t create any new errors.


How to be cautious and efficient

It’s hard to keep up the pace when working through a timed section and double-checking everything. But the list of techniques above make that quicker. You don’t want to have to answer each question twice—instead, you want to pinpoint how you make a careless error and avoid that specifically.

That takes practice. Next time you’re doing practice problems, keep these strategies in mind. Hopefully these tips will make you a little more confident when making the confusing decision about SAT Score Choice. 🙂



  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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


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