This post originally appeared on the Magoosh SAT blog.
Feeling nervous for an upcoming SAT? Believe it or not, one of the most important strategies you need for your SAT is guessing. Even if you just have one month until your SAT test day –or less!– there’s a lot you can do to increase your score. The way the College Board scores the SAT has a lot to do with it, including dictating how and when you should guess. We’ll review how to make educated guesses here, that you can practice while following your SAT study guide.
How your SAT score is tallied
Before the College Board gives you your scaled scores (the 200-800 scales), the SAT grading machines count your answers and come up with your “raw score.” What is a raw score? It’s the number of questions you answered correctly.
You may have heard that you lose .25 points for every question you get wrong on the new SAT—this is NOT TRUE! It was true before 2016…but unless you’re a time-traveler planning on going back to 2015 to take the exam, you can disregard that information.
Today, and going forward, you do NOT lose points for incorrect answers on the SAT. You get one point for each question you answer correctly, adding up to your sectional raw score, which is then translated to your scaled scores (you can do this with an SAT score calculator).
What does that mean for you as a test-taker?
When you don’t know the answer, always, always guess on the SAT.
You may have heard that you should guess the same letter every time to up your odds of getting points this way, but I’m going to advocate something a little different that will increase your odds even more.
More specifically, make an educated guess.
Imagine you’ve only got a couple of minutes left in a section, and there are three questions that you starred and skipped after working on for a couple minutes. Instead of laboring over that last question in the section that you’re having trouble making heads or tails of, go back to those three that you gave up on and eliminate any answer choices you’re pretty sure can’t be right. Or better yet, any time you’re stuck on a question, make an educated guess, star the number, and move on, then come back and try to figure out a clear answer if you have time.
If you can cross off just one answer choice for sure, you’ve already improved your odds of entering a correct answer from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3. As long as you’ve got it narrowed down, just go with your gut. On average, you’ll be getting points for each educated guess you make. Then, if you still have time, go back to that last question in the section and see if you can work it out.
Always answer grid-in questions
You’ll also see some grid-in questions with no multiple choice answers on your SAT, and those are no different from the questions above. That means that even if you really can’t get to an answer that you’re confident in, you should just choose something that seems possible. And if you don’t even have the time to read the questions, answer “1” for each. It’s about the fastest thing to write in and is a (relatively) common answer, so why not? You’ll never know how much closer you’ll get to achieving the SAT score of your dream school!
Omitting should be your last resort on your SAT—before you give up on a question, there’s one more trick up your sleeve and that’s guessing on the SAT. If you have only 30 seconds remaining in a section, use it to bubble in answers for the remaining questions–it can’t hurt, and it might help!