Do you keep missing the same kinds of questions during your SAT or ACT study sessions? Not only is this frustrating, but it can keep you from gaining ground in your practice and improving your ACT or SAT score.
To stop missing the same questions again and again, you need to learn from your practice – especially the questions you get wrong. Does this sound too obvious? Think about it this way: when you get a question correct, does that mean you completely understand the topic? Sometimes it does – but other times it means you understood enough to get the answer. So when you get a question wrong, what does it tell you? It tells you that you really didn’t understand the question, not even enough to get the answer!
Why You Get Questions Right vs Why You Get Questions Wrong
When you get a question correct, it’s because you recognized the type of problem it was (i.e. this problem is about triangles, or commas, or word choice) and recalled how to solve it. So when you get a question wrong, you’re missing a step. You either have no clue what the question is asking (you don’t recognize it), or you understand what the question is asking but have no idea how to find the answer (you can’t recall how to solve it).
This process of recognition and recall is crucial to the ACT and SAT in a way it isn’t in a normal classroom. For example, in your math class you probably study things by units: a larger topic is broken down in two different subtopics. This means that your homework covers one aspect of the topic. Then when you take a quiz it covers a couple of aspects of the topic together, mixed up. Then when you take a test it covers all of the aspects of that topic that are covered in the unit. And sure, these questions are mixed up and you have to recall different processes or approaches, but they are all very similar types of questions because they are part of the same unit.
The ACT and SAT, on the other hand, have all kinds of topics mixed up. This means that you have to have some way of identifying the type of question that is being asked. You have to have some way to help you to remember what to do. You have to recognize the type of problem and recall the correct process.
When you miss questions, you have to figure out what went wrong. Then figure out how, if you saw a question like this again, would you know what to do next time?
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How to Improve, By SAT/ACT Section
A simple way to improve your practice and stop getting the same questions wrong? Categorize the questions you have trouble with.
Categorizing the questions you miss helps you study and recall how to do them later. Let’s think about how you might categorize questions you miss within each section of the tests:
Improve your ACT English / SAT Writing and Language Practice
In the ACT English or the SAT Writing/Language section we are talking about grammar concepts and effective writing. So keep it simple: Do you miss questions about specific grammar concepts, like commas? Or are you missing big picture questions, like those that ask you about the author’s purpose?
Once you know what kinds of questions you are missing, think about what you need to do (or change) in order to get these questions correct. For example, if you’re missing questions on specific grammar concepts — like commas & semicolons — then you need to brush up on identifying independent and dependent clauses and which punctuations to use when.
Moreover, if you’re missing questions that ask you more about the content of the passage —like relevancy and redundancy and author’s purpose— then you either need to slow down when you’re reading the passage or you need to do a better job of comprehending what the passage is actually about.
Improve your ACT / SAT Reading Practice
In the Reading sections on either test, students often struggle with a certain type of passage, usually something on a subject matter or in a style of writing that they are less familiar with, or students struggle with a type of question.
If you’re struggling with a type of passage, remember that each type of passage requires you to focus on certain elements. You can read more about strategies for each passage type for the ACT Reading section here or the SAT reading section here.
As for getting more – or certain – questions correct, you need to be sure you can restate the question in your own words. Then see if you can state the answer in your own words before you look at the answer choices. Sometimes this will not be possible and that’s ok. Sometimes we need to look at those answer choices because we need to use process of elimination. But remember that one incorrect aspect/phrase/word is enough to eliminate that choice.
And lastly, always know what you are looking for or where you can find the answer before you go back to the passage. There is never going to be a question that is worth the time it takes to re-read the entire passage.
Improve your ACT / SAT Math Practice
In the math section, you can either think about the type of questions by topic or the approach. By approach, we mean that some students find it helpful to categorize questions based on what they actually have to do: write an equation, draw a graph, use a particular formula, solve, factor, or even use your calculator to do some numerical calculations.
Or you can think about the questions by topic, like Algebra 2 or Geometry: similar to how you study for a final exam in math class.
In the end, you need some sort of system. Either you look at a question, identify it as being from a certain topic, and therefore you know what to do, or you look at a question and remember what approach to use.
The Key to Stop Missing Questions and Improving Your Score
The key to improving your SAT or ACT score is not how many questions or practice tests you complete; it’s about how much you pay attention to which ones you got right and which ones you got wrong.
So from now on when you get a question wrong, make a note of why you got it wrong, what you plan to do differently next time, and make all your practice count!
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