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Guessing and SAT II Writing
Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
Guessing and SAT II Writing
Should you guess on the SAT II Writing Test? We’ll begin to answer this question by posing a math question:
Shakespeare is holding five cards, numbered 1–5. Without telling you, he has selected one of the numbered cards as the “correct” one. If you pick a single card, what is the probability that you will choose the “correct” card?
The answer is 1/ 5, or 1 in 5. But the answer is only important if you recognize that the question precisely describes the situation you’re in when you blindly guess the answer to any SAT II Writing question. When guessing blindly, you have a 1/5 chance of getting the question right. If you were to guess on ten questions, you would, according to probability, get two questions right and eight questions wrong.
  • 2 right answers gets you 2 raw points
  • 8 wrong answers gets you 81/ 4 = –2 raw points
Those ten answers, therefore, net you a total of 0 points. Blind guessing is a complete waste of time, which is precisely what ETS wants. They designed the scoring system to make blind guessing pointless.
Educated Guessing
But what if your guessing isn’t blind? Suppose you’re faced with this question:
The yodelers  drew  lots of people, for  it  had never  appeared 
 A B C 
on stage  before .  No error 
 D E
Suppose that this question flummoxes you. The directions tell you to find the error in the sentence and pick the corresponding answer choice, but you can’t seem to find the error. You stare at the question and realize that the only underlined word you confidently feel is correct is before. The other ones look like they might be wrong. Since you’re almost certain before is correct, you eliminate (D). Once you’ve eliminated before as a possible answer, you have four choices from which to choose. Is it now worth it to guess? Yes. Probability states that if you are guessing between four choices you will get one question right for every three you get wrong. For that one correct answer you’ll get 1 point, and for the three incorrect answers you’ll lose a total of 3/ 4 of a point.
In other words, if you can eliminate one answer, the odds of guessing turn in your favor: you are more likely to gain points than to lose points.
The rule for guessing on SAT II Writing, therefore, is simple: if you can eliminate even one answer choice on a question, you should definitely guess. And in the chapters that follow, we’re going to outline plenty of strategies for eliminating at least one answer from each question.
If You’re Stumped
If you cannot eliminate even one answer choice and find yourself staring at a certain question with mounting panic, throw a circle around that nasty question and move on. If you have time later, you can return to that question. Remember, answering a hard question correctly doesn’t earn you any more points than answering an easy question correctly. You want to be sure to hit every easy question instead of running out of time by fixating on the really tough questions. While taking five minutes to solve a particularly difficult question might strike you as a moral victory when you’re taking the test, quite possibly you could have used that same time to answer six other questions that would have vastly increased your score. Instead of getting bogged down on individual questions, you will do better if you learn to skip, and leave for later, the very difficult questions that either you can’t answer or that will take an extremely long time to figure out.
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