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SAT Secrets 31: Controlling careless errors on the SAT Math Test

SAT Secrets 31: Controlling careless errors on the SAT Math Test

Are careless errors preventing you from achieving your potential on the Math Test?

Are you tired of wondering what your math score might have been if you hadn’t made preventable mistakes on problems you were sure you got right? Please consider the recommendations in this article, including specific ways to

  • Adjust your approach to the SAT Math Test
  • Force yourself to slow down and focus
  • Make fewer careless mistakes
  • Raise your score!

Slow down

Top scorers know that to maximize your score, you need to get the easier questions right. If you know you sometimes fall victim to carelessness, it is a good idea to force yourself to take a little extra time on the questions you know how to do. The wrong choices on the SAT Math Test often represent common mistakes – the kind of mistakes that are frequently made by students who are rushing or trying to cut corners. That’s one of the reasons those wrong choices look so right, and why they can be so easy to choose by mistake. Your best defense is to stop rushing and stop cutting corners.

Get out of your head – do your work on paper

Write down every step of algebra problems. Label diagrams. Draw your own pictures if it helps. There are two big drawbacks of using mental math on the SAT: 1) If you come up with an answer that isn’t in the choices, you have to start at the very beginning of your calculations to figure out what went wrong. This wastes valuable time. 2) Many of the wrong choices represent common errors in mental calculation. So, if you make a mistake, you are still likely to see the answer you came up with – and it’s wrong. These are the classic questions that you thought you got right… If you write your work down, you drastically reduce the possibility that you will make a careless error.TOP CALCULATOR TIP: Think it through first – On the calculator section, it helps some students to write down what they’re going to enter into the calculator before they actually start using the calculator. In this way, they ensure they don’t miss a step.

Circle key words in the question

Sometimes students assume they know what the question is asking, and accidentally answer the wrong question. Circling key words can help with this.Example:If the radius of a circle is tripled, what is the effect on the circle’s circumference?(A) It is increased by 3(B) it is increased by 9(C) it is increased by a factor of 3(D) it is increased by a factor of 9[Explain]Potential careless errors here include A) mistakenly thinking that tripling is the same as increasing by 3, B) mistakenly applying the area formula and thinking that squaring a tripling will increase a number by 9, and D) mistakenly applying the area formula when the circumference formula is what is called for. The correct choice is C.TOP TIP: If you make a habit of circling key words in math questions (in this case, radius, tripled and circumference), you are more likely to take the time you need to ensure success.TOP TIP: Test Values – A clever approach here would be to try plugging in values – imagine a circle with a radius of 1 – what is its circumference? . Then triple it – what is the circumference of the circle now? . What happened? It was multiplied by 3, which is the same thing as increasing by a factor of 3.

Underline the question that is being asked

Sometimes a question will ask for something that is a bit unexpected… Example:If 10x + 6 = 206, what is the value of 5x + 3?(A) 20(B) 53(C) 103(D) 203This question asks for the value of an expression, not the value of the variable itself. Just to make sure you don’t accidentally answer the wrong question, it can be helpful to underline the question: what is the value of 5x + 3?[Explain]Before you charge in and solve for x, take a step back and note that the question is asking for the value of 5x + 3. At first glance, this might seem like a random thing to ask, but if you slow down you’ll see it’s just half of the original expression 10x + 6. When you underline or circle the part of the question that is what is being asked, you force your brain to downshift and focus.

Double check the question before moving on

Get in the habit of taking an extra 5-10 seconds after completing every math question to make sure you are answering the question that is being asked. Then, select an answer and move on to the next question.TOP TIP: Be smart with your time – If you only have some of the hardest questions left in the math section and feel stuck, make the best guess you can. Then, with your leftover time, consider double checking the easy & medium questions. Remember, every question on the SAT is worth the same number of points, so catching a careless mistake on an easy question is worth as many points as getting that last hard question right!

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