Improve Your SAT Math Score By Preventing Careless Mistakes

by Pam Allen

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Zen SAT Prep.

Highlights
  • Take notes on math questions prevent careless math mistakes. Circle key words like ‘radius,’ ‘perimeter,’ and ‘area’ to prevent yourself from making mistakes with them.


  • Rewrite word problems as simple algebraic equations - it makes them much easier to deal with.

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Highlights
  • Take notes on math questions prevent careless math mistakes. Circle key words like ‘radius,’ ‘perimeter,’ and ‘area’ to prevent yourself from making mistakes with them.


  • Rewrite word problems as simple algebraic equations - it makes them much easier to deal with.


  • Remember that every question contains all the information that you need to solve it. If it seems like something is missing, read the problem more closely.






Careless mistakes are a huge pitfall for many students on the SAT Math Section. However, these are the types of mistakes that can be easily remedied. By learning how to properly assess and Take Notes on SAT Math problems, you can entirely avoid careless mistakes.

The Dangers Of Careless Errors



Careless errors, or careless mistakes, are precisely what they sound like. They are mistakes on math problems that result from carelessness, or from making unwarranted assumptions. They’re goofy mistakes.

They happen when you look at the word radius and read it as diameter. Or when you look at a problem which has a partially shaded rectangle, and you assume that its asking for the shaded area, but it actually wants to know the non-shaded area. These errors happen with smart students on easy questions.

You have to be especially careful with careless errors on the SAT, because if you make one, they will have that answer waiting for you.

Fortunately, they’re easily avoided.

Taking SAT Math Notes



By taking notes on math problems you can prevent yourself from making those careless mistakes. So to re-visit the above example, when you see the word radius, you circle the word radius. This cements it in your mind as radius, and helps you to read it as what it is while you’re solving the problem.

Likewise, when you see “X < 0”, translate that into “X Is Negative.” You already know that X is negative, but by writing it out in English it will prevent you from making careless errors. It seems unnecessary to deal with such small details, but careless errors don’t come from a lack of knowledge. They come from not paying enough attention to details.

The SAT can be an exhausting test, and it is precisely when you stop making a point of paying attention to the details that careless errors start to creep into your work.

Preventing Unwarranted Assumptions



The other side of careless mistakes is preventing unwarranted assumptions. Allow me to briefly revisit the example of the partially shaded box. Say that the question has a rectangle, one portion of which is shaded, and it wants to know what the perimeter of the non-shaded portion is.

Now, most of the time, a problem with a portion of a figure shaded would be dealing with the shaded portion. But if you look at the problem and make this assumption, you’ll be sure to get the wrong answer. On the other hand, if you look at the problem, and underline and note the key words, and make a note that it is the non-shaded portion that is of interest, then you’ll be likely to get to problem right.

Dealing With Word Problems



When we’re doing math, our brains somehow prepare themselves to deal with abstract symbols. Thus we can find it difficult to deal with word-based math problems. You can avoid this problem by taking notes as well.

To take notes on word problems, simply look for and circle all the mathematical terms. So prices, distances, anything dealing with perimeter or area, radius or diameter. Circle the mathematical terms.

For example, Mary and Joe are setting up a lemonade stand. We don’t care. That’s not mathematical. If they’re charging fifty cents per cup, we care. That’s mathematical, so you circle or underline that.

Then once you’ve circled and underlined the mathematical terms, you can take them and change them into mathematical symbols. So for example, fifty cents becomes $0.50, while the number of cups sold at the lemonade stand becomes “C.” Then, if you’re asked to find out how much money they made, you only have to solve a very simple algebraic problem. The whole thing just becomes much easier to work with.

Everything Is There



Remember that every problem gives you all the information that you need. So if you find yourself stuck on a problem, go back and check for clues.

For example, maybe you’re stuck on a triangle problem, and you didn’t notice that it's an isoceles triangle. This, of course, mean that two sides are of equal length, but also that the angles opposite these two sides are of equal measure.

Similarly, if you see the word “median,” then you know that the list of statistics needs to be put in order from least to greatest. While if you see the word “equilateral,” you know that every side of the triangle is the same length, and that every angle is 60 degrees. One word can often generate a lot of useful information.

If it seems like some information is missing, go back and read the problem again. Every question contains all the information that you need to solve it, so perhaps you’ve missed something.

Practice Makes Perfect



Once you have the note-taking techniques down, the best way to improve on the SAT Math section is just by repeated practice, and by exposing yourself to a lot of different kinds of problems. So when you complete the math section of an SAT practice test, compare it to previous tests that you’ve taken, and really analyze each problem.

Look at each problem that you got wrong, and look for exactly what you did wrong. Was it a careless mistake? Or was that you actually didn’t know how to solve the problem? If possible, look for similar types of problems that you have gotten correct on other practice tests, and look for what you did differently.

By identifying problems and careless errors, you can prevent yourself from making them again in the future.
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