How to Guess on the SAT and ACT

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Co-authored by Renae Hintze


Like most exams, although SAT and ACT test you on what you know, there is also an element of time.

For many of us, unlimited time on a test would give us the chance to thoroughly answer each question the way we wanted to… but because standardized testing times aren’t unlimited, instead it’s best to implement different strategies to help work against the time limit.

One of the best strategies to get a good score in shorter time is to guess!

Should you really guess on the ACT/SAT?

The answer is 100% YES.

Unless you truly know all the material, unless you have increased your test taking speed so that you spend the right amount of time on every question, save some time at the end of your exam to fill in empty bubbles. 

Both the ACT and the SAT do not penalize for guesses. What that means is that the questions you answer wrong do not count against you.

When in doubt, follow this flowchart:

edu guess2-01Blind Guessing

Does it matter what letter I guess?

You may or may not have considered that a certain letter on the multiple choice is more commonly used than others. There is some question as to whether or not the letter “C” has the best chance of being correct.

Is this true?

Adam Lohonyai is a Forensic Structural Engineer who did a study on this exact question, and here are his findings:

In the long run, sticking with ‘C’ probably gives you a very slim advantage over random guessing, though guessing randomly gives you better consistency in the results of your guesses.

And if you’re not paying attention, bubbling in C last minute could cause you to miss out on your True or False questions, where only A and B are an answer!

My advice? When guessing, stick to a variety of guesses and don’t favor that “C”.

Making an Educated Guess

Making an educated guess means that you make inferences based on the material in the question to eliminate any answers that wouldn’t make sense and narrow down your options.

Here’s an example:

Example of an Educated GuessExplanation:

Notice the clue words that are underlined in red. The words used around the unknown term can provide context to that term.

Let’s look at your options:

A) Emotional

This is most obviously not the correct term.

  • The word is in front of a noun, which means it is most likely an adjective for the “clustering of jobs”. Does it make sense for a job to be “emotional”?
  • There are no other words in the passage that indicate any kind of emotional ties to the jobs.

C) Brilliant

  • Initially, you may have the thought that “Brilliant people do well in their jobs”… this is true, but this is not what is being said. The adjective “intense” is being used to define “clustering of jobs” not the people IN those jobs.

D) Determined

This is perhaps the closest to being right. However, consider this:

  • How would a determined “clustering of jobs” cause a “bloated” capacity? Determination is not a size-related term.

Thus, the correct answer is most likely B) Concentrated!

You may see the word “concentrated” and think

How can that be right? Concentration means to focus.

But after narrowing down your options, you know that choices A and C are not likely to be correct. Choice D might fit, but it seems a little awkward… and you may recall that when your parents buy different liquids from the store, the ones labeled “concentrated” are thicker than regular liquids.

www.walmart.com

www.walmart.com

Thick is a synonym for Large, which is a size-related term. That makes it most compatible with the term “capacity”. 

Viola!

Conclusion

So to touch on a few points I mentioned above:

  • Never leave blank bubbles on your ACT or SAT — fill them all in!
  • When you are blindly guessing, don’t favor any one letter
  • When you make educated guesses, use other clues in the question to weed out the best possible answer.

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

Did I answer all your questions about how to guess on the SAT and ACT? Tell us in the comments below!

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!

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Ronit Roy
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Found your blog. Its really nice on admission counselling. I appreciate your
article. Its important to get quality Admission counseling that can help you to admission in established collages . So thanks for sharing all that important information.

Todd VanDuzer
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Glad you liked it! Thanks for the positive feedback!

Mary Buscema
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Todd,
VERY interesting information. I will be sure to share with our students. Thank you for the insight.

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