Studying for the SAT is a fantastic idea and really the only way to ensure that you will succeed on the SAT, but not all studying is created equal. I have encountered a number of mistakes students make while studying from watching “Sex In The City” because they think it is a good place to look for essay ideas, to studying non-Euclidean geometry to study for the math.

Below are the three most common mistakes I have encountered, and the mistake most likely to reduce students chances of success on the SAT.

1. Doing My Advanced Math Work is a Way of Studying for the SAT

The SAT is not advanced math. On the contrary, nearly every technique necessary to succeed on the SAT is taught in middle school. The difficult thing about the SAT is the fact that it favors lateral thinking (though it usually only asks students to to think laterally in very specific ways) and it is timed!

The best way to study for the SAT math is to do timed SAT math problems. The SAT makers are not that creative. They recycle kinds of problems all the time, so exposure to the types of problems used on the SAT is necessary for success. There is no calculus or advanced statistics on the SAT, so studying these things will not help students succeed as effectively as studying what is actually on the SAT.

2. I Can Figure Out the Writing Section by Learning Which Choices Sound the Best

This technique is a good place to start, but this is not sufficient to score well on the SAT. There will come a time when sound will betray you, and you must be able to identify what is objectively correct and what is objectively incorrect. Take this example:

“Beyond the cosmos, the burning stars, the churning planets, and the vast expanses of nothingness, lies an edge, ever expanding, that is unknown for even the greatest scientists.”

There is an error in this sentence. Many students would look at this sentence and assume there is no error because nothing sounds wrong, but more advanced students know to be systematic. There are no errors with subject verb agreement, modifiers, or pronouns. Some student may assume there is an error with the commas because there are so many of them, but they are all being used correctly.  The only other thing to check is idiomatic errors, which are usually errors with a prepositions or verb phrases. “Expanses of nothingness” and “ever expanding” seem fine. How about “is unknown for … scientists”? That doesn’t seem to be the right pronoun. The easiest way to check idiomatic errors is to put the section of language with the questionable word in another sentence. “This man is unknown for me.” Eww, that sounds awful. It should be “unknown to me”. By knowing the exact errors to check for, students don’t just have to rely on sound, they can rely on their knowledge instead.

3. I Can Read a Lot of Books to Get Good at the Reading Comprehension Section

Reading a bunch of books is a fine way to spend time; I, personally, love reading and would spend whole days doing it if I didn’t have bills to pay and a desire to commune with other human beings, but reading is not the skill being tested on the SAT. Reading COMPREHENSION is the skill being tested, and this is a slightly different skill than reading for pleasure or even to analyze.

These are both personal, and thus subjective, pursuits, whereas the SAT is an objective test. Reading comprehension is the ability to understand what is stated IN the passage and what the passage is DOING, and getting good at this requires practice. As you read, ask yourself what the main idea of a short section is. What kind of language is being used? What is the goal of the author? These are the kinds of questions we need to be able to answer to score well on the SAT. Even great writers and lovers if literature need practice to become great at reading comprehension.

The main take away here is that there is no real substitute for studying for the SAT. The SAT claims that it tests on skills you study in school, but really the test is a bit more specific than that and requires specific study. So get out that “SAT 2400” book by Shaan Patel and your college board practice tests and study for the test you are taking!

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.