SAT Tip of the Week: 3 Steps to Attack Wrong Answers on Test Day

One of the biggest mistakes students make while prepping for the SAT is fixating on the correct answer during practice tests and problems. While getting answers right is obviously the ultimate goal of the SAT, having too much of an obsession with the right answers during test preparation can actually be very harmful to your overall objective.

The reason for this is that focusing on the right answer takes away from the strategy and reasoning behind certain problems. You will never have the same exact problem on the actual SAT, so it does you no good to memorize the answer. Instead, focus on the process and it will pay dividends when the test comes.

Here is how you should properly review missed problems on practice SAT tests or homework:

1) Identify

First, you want to identify the type of question it is so you know if it is in an area that you struggle with, or it’s just this specific problem. For instance, if it’s an isosceles triangle problem, do you always have issues with geometry or triangles, or specifically with isosceles triangles. Getting down to the absolute specifics of your problem will allow you to properly pinpoint your areas of weakness in order to improve for the future.

2) Strategize

Once you have identified the specifics of the problem, figure out which strategy is best for you to use to attack these types of problems moving forward. Is it an algebraic problem that would be best solved by plugging in numbers, or are you better off testing answer choices? Once you determine the proper strategy for these types of problems, you will be way ahead of the game for similar future ones.

One way to check whether these strategies should be used moving forward is to redo the problem by either plugging in numbers, or testing answer choices or any other strategy of your choice. Only move forward if you now understand the conceptual aspect and are able to get the question right. Once you do this, you are ready for the last step of proper review.

You should keep a notebook where you chronicle all of the problems you got wrong, why you got them wrong and what you will do differently moving forward to get similar ones right in the future. While this is certainly time intensive, it helps you internalize the concept by dedicating more time to review.

3) Double-Check Other Errors

In addition to paying attention to the process, also check out the other errors you might be making. Maybe you aren’t labeling diagrams enough, or writing enough information down. Often students chalk up wrong answers to careless errors, but sometimes that is not enough. Until you figure out exactly what caused the careless error, it isn’t very helpful – you can’t just assume these problems will be fixed magically. Usually there is a reason for a careless error, whether it is not checking one’s work or relying to heavily on the calculator. Figure out the exact reason, and you will be in a much better position moving forward.

Determining the proper “why” of why you answered a practice question incorrectly is the proper way to attack wrong answers on the SAT. While you won’t be focusing on the actual answer, the ultimate result is getting it right in the future, and that’s what really counts on test day.

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Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help.