jump to navigation

SAT studying myths

These are the most common SAT studying myths:

MYTH #1: Taking timed practice tests is the best way to improve your score

Most study guides are written based on this myth. They boast about how many full-length practice tests they include. The bad news is simply taking these tests over and over doesn’t improve your score. Considering these “guides” don’t even provide solutions to the problems, how are you supposed to learn what you don’t know?

Think about a professional sport for a second. Football, track & field, marathon running, hockey, you name it. All of the athletes that compete in these sports surely play scrimmages and actual games, or run races under timed conditions, but they spend most of their time conditioning, doing drills, and reviewing their performance with a critical eye. SAT training should be no different.

Taking timed practice tests is a great thing to do. It familiarizes you with what’s on the test as well as how you need to pace yourself to maximize your score. However, reviewing those tests is more important than simply taking them. After grading your practice test you should flag each question you missed or were unsure about and decide why you didn’t get it right. It should fall into one of three categories:

1. Careless mistake or ran out of time
2. Didn’t know concept
3. Didn’t recognize approach to solve problem (was stumped)

If you have more than a couple careless mistakes per test you need to figure out why you’re making them. Saying, “stupid mistake, won’t do that next time” is not specific enough. Were you going too fast? Be sure to develop a pacing plan. This is covered in Day 1 of my free five-day e-course.

Did you do too much work in your head? Read about getting physical in my SAT Problem-Solving Strategies post. Did you make a mistake setting up an equation or in a calculation? See estimate in that same post to help you catch those mistakes.

If you didn’t know the concept required for the problem, go learn it! Every skill required for the SAT is covered in The Official SAT Study Guide. More important than reading about the concept, you need to master it, and then practice it on real SAT questions. You should only do problems from the College Board’s The Official SAT Study Guide to do exactly that.

If you got stuck and didn’t recognize an approach to solve a problem, learn more SAT Math Strategies. Some of these are covered on this site and all of them are covered in the members forum. As with reviewing math concepts, it’s most important to apply and practice what you’ve learned — don’t just read about it or watch videos!

Remember, practice problems should only come from The Official SAT Study Guide. Using made up problems from test prep companies are skewed toward their “strategies.”

For every hour you spend taking a timed test, you should spend two to four hours learning, practicing then applying what came up in that test!

MYTH #2: You shouldn’t memorize math formulas as they’re provided on the test

You should memorize formulas while preparing for the SAT math section for three reasons:

  1. You’re wasting valuable time if you need to flip back to that page to hunt for a formula.
  2. If you don’t have them memorized you might turn back to that page looking for a formula that isn’t there.
  3. There are formulas you need to memorize that are NOT provided on the test.

MYTH #3: The New SAT covers complicated math concepts

While some Algebra II topics are covered on the SAT, nearly all of the material required for SAT problems is taught by freshman year. Of course they don’t hand it to you like your 8th grade teacher did, but the concepts are basic. Your job is to cut through their language to find the basic concepts.

Not only is most of the math for the SAT first year algebra and geometry, but the test only covers a fraction of what you did in school. For this reason, DO NOT feel the need to review any high school math text books. 95% of your time would be wasted! The only math material you should spend time on should be from problems you missed from The Official SAT Study Guide.

Understanding these SAT math myths is a great start in your SAT math preparation.

Feel free to post comments below, however, I am only answering questions via the forum in the member area (premium membership required) at this time. Keep up the studying!


1. Jason McDonald - August 3, 2011

Glad to hear you find them helpful. Unfortunately I don’t have anything formal for the ACT as I’m busy enough with the SAT.

2. heather - July 21, 2011

These study strategies are so neat! And they really seem to work. Do you have something similar for the ACT?