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The 4 Most Common Mistakes in SAT and ACT Math, as Witnessed by a Perfect-Scoring Pro Tutor.
I’ve been teaching SAT and ACT prep to students (at all levels) for seven years.
In all that time, I’ve noticed that just four common mistakes cause the majority of easily avoided errors in SAT and ACT math.
The four math errors detailed in this article may seem obvious. In fact, I sincerely hope they do. That means you’re ready to spot them in your own work.
But if you don’t currently have a perfect score in SAT or ACT math section, then I assure you that you’re making these very same mistakes.
Many parents pay me a lot of money to explain this to their kids and I’ve also written a 1,000+ page textbook on SAT Math. I’d be just as happy if you use this article to save yourself the cash, and master these common mistakes yourself.
Note: I’ve Ranked These Math Errors by How Common They Are!
I’ve carefully ordered these common SAT and ACT math mistakes over the years of tutoring.
In other words, “Careless Mistake #1” really is the most common mistake that ALL students make on the SAT and ACT math tests.
And these really are THE top four careless mistakes that are costing YOU points in the SAT & ACT Math Sections.
Without further ado, here are the four most common SAT and ACT careless math mistakes!
SAT & ACT Math Careless Mistake #1:
Negative Signs & Subtraction.
Negative signs. This is it - the grandfather of all careless math mistakes on the SAT and ACT tests.
During SAT and ACT tutoring sessions, I’ve often thought: “If I just had a talking robot that reminded students to check their negative signs (about ten times per math question) then I could probably just about retire… since there’d be no more need for me…”
Do you really want to improve your SAT or ACT math score? Then dedicate yourself to NEVER making a negative-sign mistake again.
Or at least… to never forgetting to check your negatives. You see, no one can prevent ALL mistakes. One can only minimize their mistakes, and then double-check as often as they can.
So, the ultimate key to defeating your negative sign mistakes is to always triple-check your negatives.
BTW: This means, you must always show your work on every math question if you want to succeed on the SAT or ACT (but you knew that already, right??)
SAT & ACT Math Careless Mistake #2:
Parentheses & Distribution.
If I was able to wipe out two careless math mistakes from human history, the first would be negative signs… and the second would be Distribution errors.
Distribution Mistakes happen most often when Parentheses are involved in a math question.
Distribution Mistakes aren’t just about Parentheses. These mistakes also commonly occur with Exponents and Fractions, and other topics too.
For example, watching students evaluate something like ” -(2x - 3(-3x + 5) + 4x)² ” gives me nightmares as an SAT and ACT prep tutor.
Mistakes #1 and #2 Often Combine to Form A Super-Mistake:
Here’s another major heads-up: Careless Mistake #2 (Distribution) is very often seen in the company of Careless Mistake #1 (Negative Signs).
In other words, if you have both Negative Signs and Parentheses in your math question? Be quadruple-careful.
And, oh yeah. Show your work, on every math question. (But you like - already ALREADY knew that.. right?!?)
But If you fail to heed this advice?
Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
SAT & ACT Math Careless Mistake #3:
Misreading & Not Completely Reading the Question.
Since I love to read, it kills me every time a student misreads an SAT or ACT math question. It’s even worse when they don’t even bother to read the entire question before trying to answer it.
90% or more of SAT and ACT math questions require you to use every single bit of information they give you in the question. And a large proportion of the questions are word problems.
There are many traps set for careless readers in the SAT and ACT math sections. One of the most common is asking “Which answer choice can NOT be a correct answer?” to fool hasty readers.
Also, we’re all at risk of this mistake on any math question involving charts and graphs. Detailed labels - usually the title, axes, or chart key - should force us to slow down and carefully read all the information we are given.
It’s extremely painful to miss a math question just because you didn’t read it carefully. Practice slow reading, with your pencil in hand to underline and mark down key information from the question.
SAT & ACT Math Careless Mistake #4: “The Switcheroo”.
“The Switcheroo” is an easily avoided mistake on both the SAT and ACT math sections. It’s when the test asks for “y” and you give them “x.”
These math questions do two things: they play against your expectations, and they set you up to fail.
Here are some common traps:
- Asking for the value of 2x instead of the value of x.
- Converting into inches instead of feet.
- Switching to diameter instead of radius.
They key to avoiding this mistake is to underline the question itself.
I’m not talking about the background information. I’m talking about underlining the question - the specific moment in the problem where the test tells you exactly what to return as the answer.
Always make a habit of re-reading the exact question before you commit to your final answer - no matter how excited (or ready to be done) you are.
Study With Us to Avoid Careless Mistakes in Your SAT and ACT Math!
At Love the SAT Test Prep, we’re dedicated to teaching our students to master common math mistakes like these four.
If you’re prepping for the SAT test, I strongly recommend you get my two-volume SAT Math Mastery textbook here: Volume 1 and Volume 2. It’s literally the best SAT math textbook in the world, and I guarantee it will get you a higher SAT Math score.
Watch out for careless math mistakes, and see you again soon!