Should You Guess on the SAT?

Photo of a blackboard with a large white question mark written in chalk on it
November 15, 2022
How To Guess on the SAT Is There an SAT Guessing Penalty?Guess or Leave Blank on the SATFAQs: Guessing on the SAT

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/10/22

Should you guess on the SAT? Read on to learn SAT guessing tricks and more to maximize your score. 

Admissions committees use SAT scores to help compare applicants across the country. To perform well on the SAT, you’ll need to study consistently and have an excellent grasp of math, reading, and writing. 

However, there’s always a chance the test can throw you a curveball (or a few), and you realize you don’t know the answers. If it happens to you, don’t panic. We’ll walk you through what you need to know about guessing on the SAT to ensure you achieve the highest score possible. 

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How To Guess on the SAT 

So how do you guess on the SAT in a strategic way? We’ll review tips for each SAT section to show you how to guess on the SAT. 

SAT Math Guessing Tips 

These tips can help you navigate the SAT Math test if you’re stuck: 

Eliminate Answers You Know Are Incorrect

The process of elimination is your best friend on any multiple-choice test. For math questions, check for any glaring outliers. These numbers may be too high or too low to be the correct answer (although this isn’t always the case). 

Cross them out and see what you’re left with. If you eliminate only one answer you know is wrong, you’ve already boosted your chances of answering correctly from 25% to approximately 33%. 

Work Backwards

If you’re given a formula and are unsure if you have the right answer, you can plug in your solutions and work backward. Some students use this method to check their work if they have extra time, but be sure to keep your eye on the clock if you use this method. Remember, the SAT also puts your time management skills to the test. 

Don’t Ignore Visuals and Diagrams

Diagrams and visuals can offer clues that some students can miss if they get too wrapped up in potential answers. If the visual is drawn to scale, you can ballpark figures such as: 

This strategy means you may have one or two answers that make the most sense. 

Don’t Immediately Run for the Most Appealing Answer

If you look at a question that’s supposed to be of medium or higher difficulty and you see an “obvious” answer, it’s probably too good to be true. These questions can be common pitfalls for students.

SAT Reading Guessing Tips 

For this section of the SAT, you’ll need to read passages and answer questions. These tips can help you out if most or all answers look like they can be correct: 

Eliminate Answers You Know Are Incorrect

If you see an option you know is incorrect, cross it out and consider the other possibilities. Wrong answers are typically unrelated to the concept or passage or use the right words but have an inverse relationship to the content. 

Make Predictions

If the question seems challenging, try not to look at the solutions first. Read the question and the passage, and see if you can form your own answer before looking at your options. 

This strategy ensures you immediately cross out incorrect answers and don’t get sidetracked by “attractive” answers that probably aren’t correct. 

Ensure Follow-Up Questions Make Sense

In the SAT’s reading section, you’ll likely come across questions asking you, “Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?” or something similar. 

If you’re trying to guess the answer to the first or second question, ensure the answers connect in a way that makes sense. If you can’t find a connection or your answers don’t seem to work with each other, one or both of your answers may be incorrect. 

Be Careful of Answers That Are Too Specific/Broad

Many answers to reading-based questions are designed to make you think there are several correct answers. However, answers that are too specific or broad may not be correct. Specific answers hone in on one part of a passage, but they may not best express the ideas of the entire reading. 

Conversely, choosing an answer that’s too broad is like telling someone about a snake you saw on a walk and saying the main point of your story is about the ecosystem. Your best bet are usually answers in the middle of too broad and specific: the SAT version of Goldilocks’ “just right.”

SAT Writing Guessing Tips 

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many ways to “hack” through this section. However, there are ways to make guessing easier. If you don’t know where to turn, try these strategies: 

Eliminate Answers You Know Are Wrong

You should always cross out answers you know are wrong. For example, if you see word choices in your A, B, C, and D options that seem appropriate except for one, it’s probably incorrect. The SAT usually won’t make the answer that obvious for you. 

Concise Answers Are Often Correct 

Concision is the cornerstone of well-written English. If you look at your options and see one long answer with flowery language, there’s a good chance it’s incorrect. 

If there are gaps in your grammar knowledge or you’re drawing a blank, try to input each option and read them in your head. Many native English speakers can intuit what feels right in a sentence. 

Does something feel off when you read it with each answer? If so, you can probably identify the wrong answers, leading you to the right one. 

General Guessing Tips 

Besides eliminating blatantly wrong answers, remember it’s okay to skip a question and return to it later. Time management is critical on the SAT! Remember that the 2016 change means it’s better to guess than leave it blank. 

If you’re running out of time and still have holes in your answer key, give each of those questions your best shot. It’s better to guess and be wrong than never to guess. 

Is There an SAT Guessing Penalty? 

There was an SAT guessing penalty for years, where students had a quarter of a point deducted for each wrong answer, and answers left blank were not counted. The penalty deterred students from guessing, in fear their answers would be wrong. In turn, they’d receive a lower score. 

The College Board decided to do away with the SAT guessing penalty in 2016. So, should you guess on the SAT? The answer is a resounding yes! 

Guess or Leave Blank on the SAT

If you were a student taking the SAT before 2016, you would have to decide whether to guess or leave blank answers on the SAT. Because there is now no guessing penalty, it’s always in your best interest to guess. Remember, a blank answer is always “wrong," but a guessed answer always has a chance to be correct. 

Some people may believe that guessing on the SAT shows a student's lack of preparation or strategy or that they’ve given up. However, these are myths and untrue. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you need to guess on the SAT— even the most prepared test-takers may not know every answer. 

A well-thought-out guess is not a white flag in surrender but an example of a student trying their best with the materials available. 

FAQs: Guessing on the SAT

If you still have questions about guessing on the SAT, check out these FAQs! 

1. Is “C” Always the Best Answer? 

This is a piece of advice that’s persisted for a while, but your best answer is always an educated guess. Whether or not the answer happens to be “C” doesn’t mean much. 

2. Does the SAT Penalize for Wrong Answers? 

If you’re wondering how guessing on the SAT will impact your score, you have nothing to worry about. Guessing no longer lowers your score. 

3. Can You Guess on the SAT? 

You can, and you should! If you don’t know an answer, there’s no reason not to guess; there’s no SAT guessing penalty. 

Final Thoughts

The SAT is relatively tricky, so you’ll need to spend a lot of time studying. However, even the most prepared students can stumble across questions that leave them unsure. 

Remember, there’s no SAT guessing penalty. You should always answer all questions, even if you need to guess. Educated guessing gives you the best chance of achieving a higher SAT score when you get stuck. With the advice outlined above, you can feel empowered knowing you have the tools to be a superstar guesser. 

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