Home / Blog / 3 More Common ACT/SAT Prep Mistakes

3 More Common ACT/SAT Prep Mistakes

This week we’re going to cover three more mistakes that students often make while preparing for the ACT and SAT. These are “big picture” errors that apply equally to both exams. Avoiding these mistakes will help students of all skill levels to do their best on the ACT or SAT.


Working on just your weakest areas

Preparing for the ACT or the SAT can be time-consuming. Because of this, it makes sense to focus your study efforts on the sections and types of questions you have the most trouble with. However, you shouldn’t neglect the parts of the exam you have already mastered. Rote knowledge of the material plays a large role in success on the ACT or SAT. It can be shockingly easy to backslide on concepts that you don’t practice regularly, even ones you are naturally skilled with. Devote the majority of your study time to your weakest areas, but remember to review your strongest areas at least once a week as well.


Working on just your strongest areas

Some colleges and programs care less about a student’s (sub)section scores than his or her overall composite score. If you are applying to one of these schools, it can be tempting to take the path of least resistance to boosting your composite. This usually takes the form of perfecting the areas you are already strongest in on the ACT or SAT at the expense of areas you are struggling with.


While this approach might seem like simple common sense, it has two major flaws. First, it assumes that your scores in your weakest areas will stay where they area. As we noted in the previous mistake, even the scores for the concepts you are strongest in can drop if you don’t practice those concepts regularly. Second, boosting a subscore from “almost perfect” to “perfect” is much more difficult than increasing a subscore from “below average” to “above average.” In other words, working on just your strongest areas will require a lot of effort for little, if any, improvement and offers no guarantee of raising your total score.


Assuming a test subject and a high school subject are the same

I’ve lost track of the number of students who have told me that they don’t need to study for a particular section of the ACT or SAT because they are skilled in a school subject that bears the same name. Naturally, students assume they will be able to transfer what they have learned in school seamlessly onto the ACT or SAT. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous assumption to make, and it’s one that ACT, Inc. and the College Board tend to encourage.


As we’ve discussed in the past, ACT and SAT reading, writing, and mathematics are “fun house mirror” versions of high school subjects. The underlying concepts are the same, but the focus and presentation can be very different from what most students are used to. In addition, there are some factors that apply to only the ACT or SAT. For example, most sections of the ACT and SAT have very strict time limits. Another example is the calculator policy. Not only does when you can use a calculator vary between the ACT and SAT, which calculator you can use varies as well. The ACT tends to have a stricter calculator policy than the SAT does, but both exams prohibit some extremely popular models. If you’re used to using the TI-92, for instance, to solve problems in class, you will need time to adjust to a different calculator before either the ACT or SAT.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,