The Top Five Steps to Better Educated SAT Guesses

In a previous article, I touched on the Top 5 Landmines of the SAT test.
However, avoiding landmines is not enough: the general fog of questions and concepts and the overwhelming amount of information to be processed calls for more proactive strategies. Aim your SAT preparation at mastering a few simple tricks and tools—this will minimize distractions, cut down on careless errors, and enable you to show what you know.


Taking the SAT test is like running a marathon: no matter how gifted or well-trained you are, you have to pace yourself. Strive to work steadily, neither so quickly that you’ll miss critical information nor so slowly that you don’t have enough time for the questions at the end of a section (which, you’ll recall, are typically more difficult). Keep your cool and maintain focus. Gauge at the beginning of a section the average time per question, and periodically check your progress: if your time is halfway up, are you at least halfway through? Taking practice exams will also help you develop a sense of your pacing before you actually sit the test.


You likely know by now that most sections of the SAT test (all but the student-produced-response math questions) contain a

so-called “guessing penalty” of a quarter-point per wrong answer, versus no gain or loss for a question left blank. What this means is that whenever you can eliminate even one answer choice, you have eliminated the penalty; eliminate more than one and the probability of a successful guess increases significantly. Looking for clearly impossible answer choices and quickly trying out others can narrow the available options in a hurry.


This tip applies especially to the math sections of the SAT test. Utilize common sense and identify the range of plausible answers. For questions involving algebraic expressions, substituting numbers for the variables can sometimes speed up the process of finding the right answer. Be careful, though, when substituting numbers with unique properties such as 0 and 1.


I can’t stress strongly enough the value of making and marking diagrams to represent information presented on SAT test questions. This strategy also applies more to the math sections, yet any question involving logic is a susceptible to it. Your SAT test booklet gives you plenty of scribbling room for a reason – use it. Render the data in concrete form, and you’re more likely to get the right answer more quickly.


Simply resolving to be careful is not the most reliable approach you can take: you should instead go into the SAT test with specific strategies for avoiding careless mistakes. For example, whenever you skip a question (which will likely happen if you are to maintain a steady pace), circle the number of that question. You can also mark questions of whose answers you’re unsure. As long as you’re already checking your progress against the time remaining, it doesn’t hurt to double-check that the line you’re bubbling in on the answer sheet corresponds to the question you’re on in the SAT test booklet. Make sure your SAT study plan gives you not only an automatic familiarity with the directions and landmines of the SAT test, but also a set of tools to enhance your quest for the right answers. Supplement your knowledge by enhancing your ability to reason your way through the questions. There is nothing wrong with guessing, only guessing randomly.

Bruce L. Smith is an experienced SAT content creator for SAT test prep site

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