Managing your time efficiently is only one part of the
equation. Once you’ve got a plan for dealing with the set, you need
execute that plan with accuracy. The more accurate you are, the
more points you earn on the SAT. Here are some general tips that
you should always keep in mind.
Have an Idea of the Answer Before You Look at
Any Answer Choices
Remember, in multiple-choice items, four answer choices
are distractors. Do not simply
let the answer choices guide your thought. Attack each item with
some idea of the correct answer. The methods you’ll use for coming
up with your own answer will differ for each item type. The other books
in this Power Tactics series cover these methods
Speed is only part of the goal on the SAT. Speed balanced
with accuracy is the full goal. In general, the less you do in your
head and the more explicit you make your approach to every item,
the less careless you’ll be. If you’re solving a math item, take
the time to write out all your steps. Even an easy item can become
a real challenge if you try to keep all the steps in your head.
In almost every situation, you’ll also want to take a
split-second and ask yourself the question, Is my answer reasonable?
If not, chances are you made a careless mistake in solving the item.
Give the Item What It Wants.
This may seem most applicable to Math, but it’s actually
applicable to the entire test. In Math, you can be sure that a multistep
item will include a distractor that lists a key number you need
to find the ultimate result. For example, if an item asks you to
solve for x + 1, you can be sure that the value
of x will be one of the distractors. When you come
up with an answer, make sure it’s what the item is asking for. Usually
on the SAT, you have to perform one final step to convert the number
you’ve come up with into the number the item asks for.
All of Critical Reading—Sentence Completions and Reading
Passages—tests your reading in context. So you
may find distractors that are correct outside of the specific context
but are actually incorrect in the item. For example, on some vocabulary
items, the correct answer is usually a second or third meaning of
the word. The context of the item determines which meaning is appropriate.
The Writing section is also context-dependent. You either
identify an error (Identifying Sentence Errors) or identify an error
and fix it (Improving Sentences and Paragraphs) according to the
context of the sentence or sentences. Even the essay follows this
guideline—one of the only ways to get a zero on the essay is not
to address the issue presented in the prompt.
The SAT does not have a guessing penalty.
What it does have is a wrong-answer penalty. The SAT
is set up to cancel out random guessing, not educated guessing.
Here’s an illustration. Imagine a ten-item set on the
SAT. Each item has five answer choices, A through E.
Let’s say you simply fill in the bubble sheet randomly. For every
item you get right, you get a point. For every item you get wrong,
you lose a quarter-point. What would happen?
||Your Random Guess
||Points Gained or Lost
In a five-answer multiple-choice item, the chance of getting
the item correct by random guessing is 1/5. The chance of getting
the item incorrect is 4/5. Therefore, you have a 1/5 chance of getting
1 point and a 4/5 chance of losing 1/4 of a point. Although you
gained 2 points for the two correct answers, you lost 2 points for
the eight incorrect answers (81
Educated guessing is all about earning a net gain of points
on the test. Every time you eliminate even one answer
choice as being most likely incorrect and guess from what remains,
you are nudging your net points higher and higher.
For example, let’s say that in ten items, you eliminated
two answer choices as wrong for each item. Instead of having a 1-in-5
chance of answering an item correctly, you now have a 1-in-3 chance.
Similarly, instead of having a 4-in-5 chance of answering an item
incorrectly, you have a 2-in-3 chance. ‘What would happen to your
Ten items chance of guessing correctly = items answered correctly. items answered correctly 1 point for a correct answer = points.
Ten items chance of randomly guessing incorrectly
= items answered incorrectly. points for an incorrect answer = points.
points + points = net points.
Instead of netting zero points, you’ve netted almost 2
points—without knowing the correct answer to any of the
As you can see, educated guessing is critical to raising
your score. Think of it this way. There are a certain number of
items you can answer correctly even if you’ve never seen the SAT
before. That number increases as you become familiar with the test.
It increases even more as you use focused test prep materials, such
as this Power Tactics series.
However, you put a “glass ceiling” on your score potential
if you refuse to guess when you’ve eliminated one or more choices
as being most likely incorrect. You must use educated guessing to
increase your score.