How to Prepare for the SAT: Step 4. Study the Problems You Got Wrong, Get Them Right Next Time.


The SAT is a very predictable test. CollegeBoard includes the same types of problems on every exam — just with slightly different subject matter, numbers, contexts, or setups. The same goes for just about any other standardized test. Every exam probes a certain set of skills and knowledge, which certain types of problems are best at extracting.

Predictability means the SAT can be studied for and scores can be improved through practice. The best strategy for boosting scores on any standardized exam is to take lots of practice tests. But you can’t expect to score better by merely taking practice tests. You have to learn from your mistakes.

There are four things you should do when analyzing your tests:

1. Categorize the problems you missed.

All students have strengths and weaknesses, concepts they grasped in school and concepts they missed. To improve scores on successive tests, skill and knowledge gaps must be filled in. So after you’ve corrected your practice test, look carefully over each problem you got wrong and categorize it. For example, maybe you frequently miss problems dealing with commas — where to place them and when — or you frequently miss problems in the math section that involve circles.

There will almost certainly be certain types of problems that you regularly miss and you’ll continue to get them wrong until you can categorize them. Categorizing will help you identify patterns and recognize your “problem problems”

2. Understand why you got them wrong..

X marks the spot . . . of the problems you need to work on..

X marks the spot . . . of the problems you need to work on..


After you’ve identified the problems you got wrong and categorized them, then use the explanations in the answer key to understand why you got them wrong. Maybe you didn’t know how to start the problem, or maybe you made a silly arithmetic error in the middle of the problem. understanding why you missed a problem is perhaps the most important step to improving your score.

3. Be Able To recognize those types of problems.

After you’ve categorized the problems and are able to understand why you’ve been getting them wrong, the next step is to learn how to recognize those types of problems whenever they appear. For example, recognizing a comma splice problem should be easy once you’ve learned what a comma splice is and the rules regarding when and where to use commas. On subsequent tests, you should be able to immediately recognize a comma splice problem.

4. Solve those problems correctly next time

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But can you teach a student tricks for the SAT?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But can you teach a student tricks for the SAT?


Obviously, this is quite important. If you can successfully categorize what kind of problem you’ve got and understand what you did wrong last time, then you should be able to get it right this time around. If you missed the same type of problem because it was set up differently or was presented in a way such that you weren’t able to recognize, then make a careful note of how it tricked you this time, and add that pattern recognition to your repertoire.

And that’s it. Improving scores is not rocket science. Seeing all the different types of problems you may encounter on the SAT requires taking several practice tests. CollegeBoard has 8 official practice tests available on its website, four of them are actual prior SATs. After you’ve taken 3-4 of them, you will have encountered 98% of the types of problems they might throw at you. If you can recognize them, categorize them, and know how to solve them, you’re well on your way to get getting the score you want.