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5 Ways to Update Your Guessing Strategy on the New SAT

5 Ways to Update Your Guessing Strategy on the New SAT

While it is critical to prepare for the SAT, chances are you will still run into some questions that you cannot easily answer. On the current SAT, you pay a price for wrong answers – a quarter of a  point per incorrect response.

On the redesigned SAT, however, you will pay only the opportunity cost of leaving an answer blank. Removing the wrong-answer penalty should lead to several significant, if sometimes subtle, changes to your test-day strategies.

1. Understand the true meaning of guessing: When some test-takers hear the word "guess,"​ they think of surrendering. They imagine a frustrated student who simply throws his or her hands up and picks an answer at random. However, the savvy test-taker realizes that guessing involves strategy too.

Even when you cannot definitively select a correct answer, you can often eliminate several options that are obviously wrong. This approach is guessing done right. While you cannot earn a strong score on the redesigned SAT by marking answers at random, working the odds by removing wrong responses will boost your score more than it will on the current SAT.

2. Learn how to address time constraints: A general lack of time is one well-recognized challenge on standardized tests. My tutoring experience has shown that most students, much of the time, can answer nearly any SAT question.

But puzzling through the sometimes complicated reading passages can take a great deal of time. Many of the math problems require multiple steps or brute-force calculations such as plugging numbers into the equation to see which answer solves it. Test-day anxiety can also cause students to become hyper-focused on answering every single question correctly – and then suddenly realizing that the section is more than half over, and they still have more than half of the questions to answer.

On the current SAT, it is often worth identifying the hardest questions as soon as possible, and then simply skipping them. On the redesigned SAT, there is no reason to leave any question blank. As time is winding down, read each question and follow your immediate instinct. For instance, you can typically eliminate any potential answers for reading comprehension questions that reference absolutes like always or never.

3. Recognize chain questions: The redesigned SAT has a number of questions that, like a chain, build off one another. Consider the College Board sample questions three and four here, for example. The third question asks you to interpret how one character feels about another. The next then asks you which sentence provides support for your answer to the third question.

Correctly answering question No. 3 is crucial in order to correctly answer the fourth question. Recognizing these linked questions and answering the first question right is thus essential. If you must guess, guess on the latter questions.

4. Develop a strategy for "lost cause" questions: When you simply cannot arrive at an answer, it is time to choose at – somewhat – random. On the current SAT, it is only worth guessing if you can eliminate at least two of the five possible answers.

However, under the new format, there are only four answer choices. Eliminating just one possible answer raises your odds of answering correctly from 25 percent to 33 percent. Functionally, this means that it is worth your time to research why each potential answer is wrong. Once you have eliminated these answers, pick one of the remaining options and move on.

5. Tackle open-ended questions: You may be wondering how do deal with open-ended math questions. These questions are not multiple-choice, but fill-in-the-blank responses. While there is still no penalty for guessing, it is far harder to guess a number than it is to guess one of a list of possibilities. So if you are truly stumped by one of these questions, save it for last.

As you are planning for the redesigned SAT, remember to develop a contingency plan for those moments when your first plans become complicated. It is not enough to merely know how to answer questions, since nearly everyone will run into issues with time or problems that are simply too difficult.