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Should you guess on the SAT?

A few years ago, selecting a wrong answer on the SAT would cost you ¼ of a point. This guessing penalty meant that students would only answer questions that they were sure they knew. Any questions they weren’t sure about would be left blank. After all, getting zero points for a few questions is a far better alternative than losing points for incorrect answers.

While this was a great strategy for students taking the SAT prior to 2016, leaving questions blank is not a wise choice today.

There is no longer a penalty for answering questions incorrectly, so students don’t have to worry about whether guessing on questions will cause more harm than good.

Although it is certainly important for students to spend time studying for the SAT so that they don’t have to rely on frequent guessing to make it through the exam, it is okay for them to guess on the test when they don’t know the correct answers.

Guessing strategies

While it is better for students to guess than to skip a question and leave it blank on their answer sheet, guessing should not be done without purpose.

Like every other aspect of taking the SAT, there are strategies that test-takers need to consider even when guessing on questions they don’t know how to answer.

If you are preparing to take the SAT, here are some guessing strategies that you should keep in mind:

Make educated guesses when possible

One factor you want to make sure you keep in mind when taking the SAT is that every single multiple-choice question on the test has three wrong answers.

If you can think about which answer options can be eliminated from a question, it can allow you to cross off options that you absolutely know are not correct, which will boost your chances of guessing correctly.

If you eliminate two answer options for a question, for example, you will double your chances of guessing correctly.

Before you take a blind guess, see if there are any answer options that contain errors or any answer options that don’t make any sense. By doing this you will increase your odds in the event that you need to guess on a question.

You should also consider tips and strategies for each specific section of the SAT that can help you make an educated guess. 

For example, in the Writing and Language section, which frequently presents questions that require students to choose answers that make the author’s language more concise, choosing the shortest answer available will increase the likelihood that your guess will be correct.

Consider your time

When you take the SAT, you have to answer a lot of questions in a limited time.

On the SAT Reading section, for example, you have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions. Simple math lets you know that you don’t have two or three minutes to spend on each of the questions in this section. You have, at most, one minute and 25 seconds per question if you want to finish in time.

This means that you may have to guess on some questions in order to make the best use of your time.

If there are questions that you think you may be able to figure out, but these questions are starting to take up a lot of your allotted per question time, you can mark these questions to go back to them later. If you end up having enough time later on to revisit and review these questions thoroughly, you won’t have to guess on these ones.

However, if you have some questions that you know you have no clue how to answer, and you know you won’t be able to eliminate any of the answer options, you can save a lot of time by guessing and moving on to the next question.

Don’t feel bad about guessing in these scenarios. You aren’t giving up because the question is too hard. You are maximizing your time, which will help you do well on the test in the long run.

Don’t choose random letters

Even if you work hard to prepare for the SAT, you may still encounter a couple of questions where you won’t be able to figure out a single answer option to eliminate.

If you don’t have any clue what the answers might be, even after skipping these questions and coming back to them later, you will have to take a completely random guess. Remember, even a blind guess is better than leaving a question unanswered if that is your only option.

Although your chances of answering questions correctly when you guess without eliminating a single option are slim, they will be much higher if you stick with a single letter option every time you need to guess blindly.

Some people are hesitant about this blind guessing method because they think it is unlikely that the same answer choice might show up multiple times in a row. However, this way of thinking is wrong for one key reason:

The answer options for the SAT are computer-generated and thus completely random.

Unlike when your teacher creates a test and tries to avoid having answers that would lead to four “A’s” in a row or a series of “C’s,” computers don’t weigh this idea when randomizing answer options.

According to a Princeton Review analysis of SAT test answers between the years of 2016 and 2018, the correct answers are split nearly evenly between the four-letter options, meaning each letter option is correct roughly 25% of the time.

This means that if you were to guess the letter “B,” for instance, for each of the multiple-choice questions of the SAT, you would get roughly 25% of these questions correct. On the other hand, if you were to take the SAT and guess random letters for each question on the test, you could end up with a zero depending on your luck.

While 25% might not seem like something to write home about, it’s pretty significant when you consider these two factors:

  • You won’t be guessing blindly on the entire test
  • 25% is greater than nothing!

If you can confidently answer the majority of the questions on the SAT (with a few questions here and there where you make strong educated guesses), getting a higher percentage of questions correct when you have to guess blindly can make a huge difference.

Pick your favorite letter between A and D, and stick with it whenever you have to guess blindly or if you have to guess on questions you run out of time to review.

Minimize guessing on the SAT

Although it is not the end of the world if you end up needing to guess on a few questions while taking the SAT, the fewer questions you have to guess on the better.

The best way to decrease the chances that you will need to guess on the SAT is to make sure you are well prepared for the test.

If you are familiar with the types of questions you will see in each section, and you have mastered the content covered on the test, you won’t need to guess much if at all on the test. If you do end up guessing, chances are you will be able to make educated guesses instead of guessing blindly.

Sign up for an SAT prep course or private SAT tutoring through PrepExpert and learn how you can prevent yourself from having to guess blindly on the SAT.

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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