Common SAT Study Mistakes

Have you cracked open a copy of College Board’s Official Guide to the SAT and tried answering a few legit SAT questions? Or have you done some practice with questions written by some of the other major test prep companies?

If you haven’t done either, then go do that ASAP. The official guide is best for practice problems (nobody makes ‘em quite like Mom…err…College Board), but anything that mimics the SAT test format, content, and tricks of the test is a good idea.

If you have, then have you been making it count? Or have you been making the most common SAT mistakes that a lot of students make and compromising your efforts?

Well, you need to know what mistakes people tend to make if you’re going to answer that question, so ask yourself if any of these sound like something you’d do.


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Ignoring your errors

This is especially common in high-scoring students. While confidence is a good thing—and you’re going to want it for your actual SAT—it can show up in a not-so-beneficial way when practicing. Have you ever looked at the answer to a question you missed, then looked at your mistake and thought “I could have gotten that,” assuming that means you don’t have to study the topic?

That’s dangerous. If you make a mistake, any mistake, you need to figure out how you can avoid repeating it. Don’t just assume that it won’t happen again because it was “only a slip-up.”


Focusing only on getting the answer

Similarly to ignoring errors, focusing on the answer takes away from the most important part of SAT practice: learning from experience. Remember that this question won’t be on your test. Similar questions will be, though, so you have to focus on process. What are the steps you need to take to get to the answer? How can you eliminate wrong answers from the choices? Where can you go wrong?


Using only your original strategies

Now, if you only have a week until the test, you’re not going to be able to totally rebuild your SAT-taking methods. But if you have more time (and as of now, you have months until the October test date), then you should definitely be trying out new techniques.

Practice scanning verbs in reading comp answer choices. Try predicting what will go in the blank of a sentence completion before you look at the answer choices. Use every recommended strategy you find (and use it more than once) to find the things that will get you a better score. Then do them as much as possible when taking practice tests.


Focusing on less important topics

Yes, the SAT includes combinations and permutations, but they’re comparatively rare. You’re much better off spending your time on triangles. If you’re already really comfortable with triangles, then how about misplaced modifiers?

Don’t get caught up on one topic just because it’s a weak point. Consider its overall value. How many times does it come up on practice tests? All of these tips help you in that do-or-die moment when the SAT Score Choice pops up at the end of the test and your college fate hangs in the balance.



  • 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.

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