Avoiding Carelessness during the SAT

Wait, what??? 10 multiplied by 0 isn’t 10… 0! Grrr, and the value 8 wasn’t the radius but the diameter. How did I forget to divide it by 2 before using it in my calculations?? I could have improved my score by so much if I hadn’t made those mistakes… Have you ever been careless on a test? I know I have. If you have too, this post is definitely for you.

“Carelessness” is a condition that people have faced multiple times during test taking and has become a term commonly bandied about. I have often heard friends, and even myself, often say, “if only I had been less careless, I would have gotten a much higher score”. Moreover, the SAT is one test in which being careless and getting a question wrong will penalize the test-taker and cause points to be deducted from your score. Well, being more vigilant is not an unachievable dream. In fact, with a few crucial strategies and test-taking habits, we can all be a lot less careless.


[Continue reading to find out how to avoid careless mistakes on the SAT…]

1. Avoid misreading the question. Always read the question twice before shading the answer to make sure that you have not read the question incorrectly and that you have selected the answer which the question is actually asking for. For example:

Sample Question: The … event was boring, but impulsive Bridget did her best to liven it up with her trademark … 

You might be tempted to choose C because “boring” and “humor” seem to be direct opposites. However, if you had spotted the adjective “impulsive” describing Bridget, the correct answer would then be A. Be careful not to miss out even a single word – every word in the question and answer could potentially be very important. Annotate the text if you need to, such as highlighting key phrases or circling important parts of the question.

2. Avoid shading the wrong answer. Always check the question number on your answer sheet and in the test booklet to make sure that the numbers match up. Sometimes when you skip a question that you cannot solve at that point in time and move on to following questions, you fail to also skip a shading a bubble in the answer sheet and end up shading wrong answer bubbles for the rest of the questions. Also, try using bubble sheets when you take practice tests to make sure you don’t make this mistake in the actual SAT.

3. Avoid algebra or arithmetic errors. To make sure that you have solved a question correctly, go back and work out the solution to that same question using a different method. If you are able to work out the same answer to that question using different methods, it is more likely then that your answer is correct. However, checking your answer via different methods is only a practice you should use if you have extra time after finishing the section.

4. Avoid simple calculation errors. Often, we make simple addition, multiplication, division and subtraction errors because we think that such calculations are too easy to get wrong. Yet, many test-takers actually report that they make more “dumb mistakes” on the easy problems than on the hard ones. To prevent such errors, always use your calculator, even for these seemingly easy questions, just to make sure.

5. Avoid being over-assured when answering questions. More often than not, there are multiple questions in the SAT that have answers that “just seem right.” These questions and answers seem to instinctively look correct, maybe because you have seen a similar question and answer before. Yet, this is a dangerous assumption. Make sure to always be on your toes and question each answer before selecting the best choice. Rushing into answering a question because of a “gut feeling” is definitely not the best method.

Be careful and good luck on your SAT!

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

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