Test Day Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Often during my SAT and ACT prep lessons, and most particularly with respect to the English, Writing, and Mathematics sections, I encounter a student who misses problems testing concepts that he or she knows and has been taught.

How to explain this phenomenon? How to avoid it?

Here, I’ll take a look at some common errors and offer advice on how to avoid those mistakes on test day so that you can win acceptance to your favorite colleges and scholarships.

Not Reading the Question

This one is huge. Perhaps you’re solving for X instead of Y, for Y instead of Y squared. Perhaps you’ve forgotten to convert to the appropriate units. Perhaps the question asks for a specific detail and you’ve chosen a general opinion. Perhaps you’ve ignored the all-caps word EXCEPT or NOT. Most students’ eyes pass up the question entirely because they’re so eager to begin solving a problem. Unless you want to get into the habit of making careless errors, read each question carefully on the day of the test!

Not Holding Every Word of the Sentence Accountable

In the Writing section of the SAT and the English section of the ACT, every word of the sentence they’d like to you to edit ought to be scrutinized. Make sure no critical vocab words are escaping your observation in the Reading sections.

Not Checking Context

Did you choose the pronoun “one” when all the pronouns surrounding the sentence refer to the reader as “you”? Did you choose “On the other hand” as a transitional phrase when there was no hand before it? Sometimes when editing there are several grammatically correct choices—if that’s the case, you must rely on context to determine which choice is logically appropriate.

Relying on Your Ear

This one gets students on the Writing and English sections every time. Questions are often designed so that what sounds good might well be wrong, while the correct answer may not “sound” good to a student who hasn’t read a wide variety of English literature.

Forgetting What You’re Looking For

If you can’t remember the names of common error categories—Subject-Verb Agreement, Pronoun-Antecedent, Pronoun Case, Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers, Conjunction errors, and so on—then you’re more likely to backslide into relying on your ear.

Keep the error categories at the forefront of your mind and make sure you’ve worked through our book on English Grammar for SAT and ACT testing!

Careless Math

Maybe you’re forgetting to FOIL or are making positive/negative sign distribution errors. Maybe you’re adding and subtracting instead of multiplying when dealing with percent change. Perhaps your mental math isn’t as all-powerful as you might suppose. Show your work, take your time on every step, and cover all your bases.

Calculator Errors

If you aren’t meticulous about the way you use your calculator, it may be causing you more harm than good! Don’t forget to pay close attention to parentheses and so on when using your calculator.


There’s nothing worse than getting the correct answer but then bubbling it incorrectly! Even worse, missing several questions in a row from misbubbling. Be diligent.

The Bottom Line

Students, even if you’ve received top-notch tutoring, have taken plenty of practice tests, and have command of grammar and the English language as well as skill in algebra, geometry, data analysis, and statistics, realize that you’re not guaranteed to get a perfect or near-perfect score.

Past success does not guarantee present success, and it’s wise to take nothing for granted on test day. Indeed, that’s the moment that matters—it’s why you’ve trained. Will you read the question? Will you hold every answer choice accountable? Or will you rest on your laurels? We believe in you!

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That’s it! For more SAT and ACT prep tips, as well as college readiness articles, keep reading our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 college counseling or SAT or ACT group classes or tutoring? Contact us today!

Additional Resources:
SAT Grammar Crammer
Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers

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