I’ve been teaching the SAT for over 15 years now, and there’s one thing that I’ve seen consistently in the students who have made the most improvement while studying. It’s not about how much they study or how smart they are. It’s all about how well they learn from their mistakes. And one of the best ways to make sure you’re learning from your mistakes is to use an error log when you are studying for the SAT.
It’s not enough to just do lots of SAT problems. Careful review of your mistakes, which includes the use of an error log, is the best way to make sure you’re raising your score.
In this post, you’ll learn what an error log is, why it’s great, and how to use one. I’ll also share with you the error log template that I use with my students.
What is an error log?
Basically, an error log is a way of keeping track of the mistakes you make while doing practice SAT problems. But it’s not about beating yourself up for the mistakes. Instead, it’s about turning every mistake into an opportunity to learn how to better answer questions next time.
An error log is not an exercise in negativity. It’s an exercise in growth.
You can also use whatever format works best for you: pen and paper, Google Doc, or spreadsheet. But I do recommend that you find a dedicated place to keep your error log instead of just writing notes on whatever piece of paper you have handy at the time.
You’ll need to be able to review it later, so keep it all in one place.
Want a premade SAT error log you can use starting now? Sign up here to get the error log I use with my students. I’ll send you the error log both as a Google Sheets spreadsheet or as a PDF so that you can use whichever one matches your personal style.
But WHY should I be using an error log for SAT?
Do any of these sound like you?
- You do some practice problems, check your answers, get annoyed that you didn’t do better, then stop studying for the day.
- After reading an explanation for a question you missed, you say “oh, that makes sense” or “ugh, that was my second choice.” Then you move on to the next question.
- You keep missing the same kinds of questions and don’t seem to be getting any better.
- Or maybe you don’t even check your work at all half the time…
I too often see my tutoring students lose out on opportunities to really learn from the practice they do. It’s easy to rush through the review process, especially when you’re trying to juggle SAT prep with schoolwork, sports, and whatever else.
But without an error log, here are the risks you are taking:
- Being too surface-level with your review and missing chances to master the content from the questions you’re missing.
- Falling into the temptation of skipping your review entirely!
- Not noticing patterns in the mistakes you’re making, which means you won’t know where you should focus your attention.
How to use your SAT Error Log
Now that you’ve (hopefully!!) signed up to get your own copy of my error log, here’s how to use it.
Tip 1: Keep track of which questions you are reviewing
Include which practice test/book you are using, which question number you missed, and what type of question it was. (For example, algebra, free-response math, main idea, command of evidence, grammar, transitions, add/delete a sentence, etc.)
This might seem like an unnecessary step, but it can help you find big picture patterns in your mistakes.
For example, you might think that annoying comma questions are what’s holding you back in the writing section, but you might notice from your error log that actually transitions are a much bigger deal for you.
It can also be useful if you ever want to go back later to retry questions to see if you can tackle them now.
For example, if you’ve been studying SAT geometry, you may want to test yourself by going back through some old geometry questions on your error log. It can be a great confidence boost to see how much better you do on the exact questions that gave you trouble before.
Tip 2: Include both “why I missed it” and “what I learned”
Remember that the point of your error log is not to beat yourself up. You don’t want to just dwell on what you didn’t know or didn’t notice. Instead, you want to think about what specific actions you can take, now or on the next practice test, to avoid a similar mistake in the future.
Here are some examples:
|Why I missed it||I should do differently|
|Didn’t know factored form for quadratics||Review vertex form, factored form, and standard form for quadratics. |
Factored form: y = a(x-p)(x-q)
|Didn’t catch on that the main idea of the passage was the environmental impact of traffic. I thought it was just about traffic.||Pay attention to the title, first paragraph, and last paragraph for hints about the main idea.|
The “what I should do differently” column will sometimes force you to really think. Make sure you’re not using the column to write down why the right answer is right. That’s not exactly the same as what you should do differently next time.
Instead, try to think about how you could have prevented the mistake you made. Then think about what you could do the next time you see a similar question to make sure you get it right.
Tip 3: Be specific but not TOO specific
You want to strike a balance between being specific enough in your error log to be useful, but not so specific that your takeaway doesn’t apply to other questions. A good rule of thumb is that your “What I should do differently” takeaway should be something you can actually use in the future.
Here are some examples of good and bad “what I should do differently” statements:
|Too Broad||Don’t make careless mistakes in math!!!!|
|Too Narrow||3*2 = 6, not 5|
|Just Right||Slow down just a bit on the math. Don’t do things in my head, and do a split second double-check after each step just to make sure I didn’t make a careless mistake.|
Or for the reading:
|Too Broad||Get the main idea of the passage right.|
|Too Narrow||Paragraph 1 is just background, but the main idea is mostly in paragraph 2, lines 18-24.|
|Just Right||Be on the lookout for passages (especially science?) that have a paragraph of background before they really get into the main idea.|
Tip 4: Review your error log regularly
As your error log grows longer, you’ll want to make sure you’re going back to review it on occasion. Otherwise, it’s too easy to just forget the things you learned when you were studying a month ago.
When you go back over your error log, look for these things:
- Any math or grammar content you are still fuzzy on
- Question types that tend to show up a lot
- Mistakes that tend to show up a lot (scan through the “why I missed it” column)
- Takeaways that tend to show up a lot (scan through the “what I should do differently” column)
Bonus Tip 5: Include questions you guessed on
If you are shooting for a 700+ score in a section, or if you are already above a 700 and shooting for as close to perfection as possible, your error log should also include any questions you weren’t 100% sure about. Don’t settle for lucky guesses.
All of these can be very helpful. But maybe the last one is the one to pay special attention to. If you’ve been telling yourself for a month that you just need to “slow down!!” or “double-check the passage,” but that same recommendation makes its way onto your error log week after week, you want to ask yourself whether you are really following your recommendation.