Should You Guess on the SAT?

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It’s no secret that the SAT has undergone some significant changes over the years. Along with an increased emphasis on logic and reasoning, the 2016 test removed the penalty for incorrect responses. While previous test-takers suffered a 1/4 point deduction per wrong answer (as opposed to no penalty for questions left blank), the new version lets you try your luck with impunity. In other words, guessing can only help your score now, not hurt it.

 

Tips for Guessing Wisely

 

Just because The College Board no longer penalizes test-takers for incorrect guesses doesn’t mean you should fill in your SAT responses without thinking. Rather than take a shot in the dark on tricky questions, follow the below suggestions for guessing wisely:

 

Cross Out Answers That Are Blatantly Incorrect

 

Why would you want to decide among four answer choices when you could guess from just two? Before making your selection, take time to see if you can eliminate any answers that are clearly incorrect. For example, writing section responses that include grammatical errors, like punctuation problems, are almost certainly going to be wrong.

 

Stick to Your First Choice

 

You’ve probably heard it before, but studies confirm that an individual’s first guess is most often the best one. If your instinct told you to select a particular response, try to avoid changing your answer unless you’re confident you made a mistake.

 

Reading and Writing Tips

 

Listen to Logic

 

Because SAT Reading passages are taken from real science and history texts, answers must not only align with the content of the supplied writings but also the real-life events that inspired them. So, if you know even a little about the topic in question, you can use this knowledge when selecting an answer. On the other hand, if an answer doesn’t seem sensible, you can probably rule it out as illogical.

 

Pay Attention to Connotation and Context

 

If you’re struggling with a particular passage on the Reading section, consider revisiting the relevant portion for positive and negative words as well as general tone. For example, if a question asks whether the author is happy or sad about the subject matter, try to find words in the text that convey one of these emotions. Considering the connotation of the language used can help you eliminate wrong choices right off the bat; so if you still have to guess, you’re choosing from fewer options.

 

Choose the Shortest Answer

 

It’s not always true, but short answers are often the correct ones on the SAT Writing section. When trying to decide between two or more answers, the ones that seem wordy or repetitive are often incorrect. When in doubt, choose the simplest, clearest answer over longer, more complex ones.

 

Read Over Your Options Again

 

If you have the time, consider taking a guess on a question and then coming back to review your choice later, after you’ve completed the rest of the test. While it’s generally best to go with your first instinct, sometimes rereading a question (and the possible responses) can help you see things you missed the first time around, such as grammatical errors. For best results, look out for those sentences that sound awkward or just plain wrong.

 

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Math Tips

 

Plug It In

 

You probably won’t have time to use this strategy on every equation question you’re uncertain about. However, you might want to employ it in cases when you’re considering one or two possible responses. Using this tip, test-takers literally try to plug all possible answers into the equation to determine which is correct. Time permitting, this strategy can be an effective one for narrowing down responses and making the best possible guess.

 

If All Else Fails

 

Whenever possible, the CollegeVine team recommends making educated guesses on questions you don’t know. However, if you truly have no clue which answer is the right one, consider using the Letter of the Day strategy. According to Kaplan, test-takers are better off choosing one letter for wild guesses and using it consistently across the SAT. By selecting one letter and using it for all random guesses, you boost your odds of responding correctly at least some of the time.

 

Other Posts You Might Enjoy

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What to Do if You’re Not Improving on the SAT

 

Standardized tests can be a factor in whether or not your application is reviewed at elite schools. That’s why CollegeVine created our SAT program to help ambitious college students increase their scores. Our goal is to maximize results by tutoring students in those areas most likely to drive large score increases.

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.