Making More Than A Wild Guess on the ACT and SAT
There are plenty of myths about the ACT and SAT, and those about guessing are among the most common. Worried about guessing because an incorrect answer can bring down your score? While that may have been the case at one point on the SAT, it certainly isn’t anymore! In fact, filling in an answer for every question on the test can be a great way to earn a few extra points on questions you might not have enough time to solve. So when the time on a section is winding down, guess away!
What’s the Best Guess?
You may also have heard rumors that "C" is most often correct on this type of test. This is just a myth! It may hold a ring of familiarity when you’re filling in the gaps on your answer sheet, but I’ll urge you to consider your other options equally. At the start of the test, choose a single letter you’ll use on all your “guessing” questions and stick to it. This Letter of the Day (LOTD) method is one of my hacks for succeeding on multiple choice tests and it’s one way to turn blind guessing into something more strategic.
Taming a Wild Guess
A guessing strategy like LOTD can be extremely helpful when you’ve run out of time, but before you get to that point, you’re better off making educated guesses. In short, if you can eliminate even one choice, you’ve got a better chance of picking the right one! Here are some of my favorite ways to narrow things down, depending on the section:
- Math – Some answers just won’t make sense. For example, while it may seem silly, sometimes test makers will ask you to find a positive solution, only to throw in an answer that’s negative. Does that make sense? No! Answers like that can easily be eliminated.
- Science – Look for choices that are similar but different. If you find some, one of those is likely to be correct. The test makers expect you’ll get close enough to a concept but might have trouble determining a relationship. If two answer choices appear as direct opposites, those are even more likely to hold one that’s correct — focus on those.
- Reading – A common trap here is the use of extreme words. If an answer choice uses a word like always or never, you can usually rule it out because it’s crucial that the answer choice must represent what the passage actually says and not an inferred version of it. (Note that we said usually, not always!)
- Writing & Language/English – Look for choices that are equivalent. I strongly recommend mastering punctuation marks and transitional words, and familiarizing yourself with synonyms. For example, semicolons and periods accomplish the same task in a sentence, so if you see two answer choices that are the same except for their use of those two punctuation marks, neither can be correct!
Leaving any number of questions blank just because you ran out of time is never a strategy I recommend. In fact, it’s not even a strategy: it’s the lack of one! That’s why I always recommend taking practice tests for the ACT or SAT (or both, as they can share similar strategies!). Doing so can help you nail down your pacing before the big day, ensuring you have some time left over to hit the questions you skipped with your best guess. For a deeper breakdown of the question types and specific strategies for each test, check out our books Cracking the ACT and Cracking the SAT and see how to make the best use of your time.