Guessing On The Sat

"Should I guess on the SAT?"

On the SAT, the answer to the, “Should I guess?” question is a bit more complex than on the ACT. Here are the answers:

A short answer to the SAT “Should I guess?” question is: If you can eliminate at least one choice, then guess.

A longer answer to the SAT “Should I guess?” question requires knowledge of the SAT scoring system and a little math. The SAT awards one point for each question correct and subtracts a quarter of a point for each answer wrong. There are usually five possible answers for each question. There is no penalty for skipping a question.

Let’s take a hypothetical scenario involving pure guessing. Suppose you had a 100 question test using the SAT scoring system. Say you guess at all 100 questions—you totally Christmas Tree the test without even looking at the questions. Since there are five possible answers, for each question you’d have a 1-in-5 chance of getting it right. A 1-in-5 chance over 100 questions would mean you’d get roughly 20 right and 80 wrong. Your raw score would be:

Number correct:    20 x 1 = +20 points
Number wrong:   80 x -.25 = -20 points
Net raw score:            =   0 points

There is one word of caution to note if you purely guess from all 5 choices: the College Board is very good at inserting "trap answers." These are answers that "look good," but are wrong. Therefore, if you purely guess from 5 choices, you must truly guess, not go with your best thought. If you go with your best thought, you may fall into the trap. Therefore, the bottom line is this…
• If you can eliminate at least one of the choices, then your odds for guessing correctly would then become 1-in-4, or 1-in-3, or 1-in-2. Go ahead and guess.
• If you have no idea at all, it's best for you to either randomly guess or skip the question altogether.

Go back to the hypothetical 100 question test. Suppose for 20 of the questions you narrow the choices down to only 3 possible answers. You now have a 1 in 3 chance of guessing correctly. The math would now look like this:

For the 80 that you guessed from all 5 choices:
Number correct:    16 x 1 = +16 points
Number wrong:   64 x -.25 = -16 points
Net:                      =   0 points

For the 20 that you guessed from only 3 choices:
Number correct:     7 x 1 =  +7 points
Number wrong:   13 x -.25 =  -3.25 points
Net:                      =  +3.75 points

Overall raw score:        =   3.75 points

A mere 3.75 raw points may not sound like much, but it is! Every little bit counts and every little technique adds up and builds on others to improve your final score. And isn’t that what you want to do, maximize your score? Yes!

So again, the short answer is simply: If you can eliminate at least one choice, then guess.

page revision: 11, last edited: 11 Jun 2012 19:46
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