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Study Hard or Study Smart? Common Mistakes When Preparing for the SAT

There's no single perfect method for studying for the SAT, but there are certainly some wrong ways to do it. Here's a look at what you should avoid when you're cramming for the dreaded exam.

As a student, preparing for the SAT probably ranks just behind having braces and dodge ball as the least fun part about high school. So if you are going to spend a lot of time (and money) preparing, make sure you are preparing smart. Below are the top four mistakes students make when preparing for the SAT.

1. Starting too late

The SAT is a reasoning test, but it relies upon a multitude of skills and content you should have gained throughout your entire high school career. Waiting until a few weeks before the test to cram won’t allow you to build and strengthen your reasoning skills or master any of the academic concepts you need to review. Make sure you start preparing at least two to three months ahead of time to allow yourself to truly conquer any weaknesses you have.

2. Taking too many practice tests

A lot of students will prepare for the SAT by taking lots of practice tests. While this is definitely an important part of the test-prep process, just doing practice tests without taking the time to sit down and figure out where you went wrong will only provide minimal gains. You want practice tests to improve more than just your test stamina and familiarity with the exam, so look at every missed question, identify the error you made (ask a parent, teacher, or tutor for help if you need it), and then practice correctly solving similar questions.

3. Cheating during practice tests

Another big mistake students make when preparing for the SAT is not adhering to standard test-taking conditions during their practice tests. By breaking the test up into multiple pieces that you take over different days or allowing yourself a few extra minutes per section, you are only hurting yourself by not mimicking test day conditions. Taking full-length practice tests builds your brain’s ability to focus for long periods of time (known as test endurance). Furthermore, understanding the kind of mistakes you make when you are tired near the end of the exam will allow you to work to correct them. For example, towards the end of the exam, do you make mistakes solving equations in math or do you miss words when reading passages? All of these issues are easily resolved, but first you need to know that you are making them!

4. Taking a large group SAT prep class

If you’re interested in joining a large-scale test-prep course, remember that group classes often aren’t the most effective or efficient means of studying for most students. Group class curricula is centered on the concepts that the average student struggles with. The further you move away from being an “average” student, the less effective group classes are likely to be. Any bump you may see in your score after taking a group class is likely from the benefit of the mandatory practice tests—an effect that could be achieved by just taking practice tests on your own and saving your money!

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About Kate Ballard-Rosa

Kate Ballard-Rosa

Kate Ballard-Rosa is the Managing Director of truePrep, a premium, online tutoring company that provides high-quality SAT tutoring at an affordable price. She previously worked as a tutor and is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley.


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