All Errors Aren’t Created Equal

Even the best test-takers will choose the wrong answer occasionally.

SAT mistakes fall into two categories: careless errors and concept errors.

Let’s use this question (which comes from our Question of the Day blog), to illustrate the difference between the two types of errors.

Being larger and better-equipped compared with the Spanish Navy, the American Navy led the United States to victory during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

A. Being larger and better-equipped compared with

B. Both larger and more better-equipped compared to

C. Larger and better-equipped than

D. By equipping better and being more large than

E. Larger as well as better equipped, unlike

Concept Errors

When we evaluate this question carefully, we see that C is the correct answer. However, a student who had not spent as much time with questions that involve comparisons of degree might choose E, not realizing we need to use “than” when making comparisons of degree (i.e., comparing the Spanish Navy to the American Navy).

In other words, a concept error is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the material. 

The best way to minimize concept errors is to go back to the source. Review any notes you’ve taken and take a look at similar questions. If you’re still struggling, reach out to other test-takers or consider contacting a tutor.

Careless Errors

On the other hand, an example of a careless error would be if the test-taker misread a part of the original sentence or one of the answer choices. Another example of a careless error would be a simple arithmetic mistake on a math question.

With careless errors, it’s a question of spending enough time and attention on the question to apply the knowledge you’ve already demonstrated on other questions. Careless errors can also be the result of a bad habit, such as forgetting to square x every time you’re faced with a certain formula.

All too often, test-takers will make the mistake of brushing off a careless error and tell themselves that they wouldn’t have missed it if they had noticed x or hadn’t forgotten about y. But ignoring careless errors dooms you to repeating the same mistake over and over again.

The best ways to minimize careless errors are as follows:

  1. Reread.  Don’t be afraid to read the question a second time before you even start eliminating answers. And when you think you’ve solved it, take one last look at the original question to make sure that you’re answering what you’re supposed to be answering.
  2. Look for patterns. Careless errors are not nearly as random as some test-takers seem to think. You might need to review a concept or slow down on certain questions.
  3. Use more scratch paper. The more you try to do in your head, the more mistakes you will make. And the sloppier your writing, the easier it is to mix up 3 and 8.
  4. Ask yourself why. Don’t just choose the answer that “fits” or “sounds right.” Take the time to ask why all of the other answers are wrong.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting a question wrong. The problem comes when you don’t take the time to evaluate the question and ask yourself why you missed it.

If you’re looking for more SAT practice questions, download the Prep4SAT app for access to over 500 questions and flashcards.