Because there’s a penalty of ¼ raw score point for incorrect multiple choice responses on the SAT, many students experience extreme trepidation about guessing when they aren’t sure about an answer. I’ve stated my general advice on guessing before, but the truth is that while I almost always find that my students benefit slightly from guessing more, I’m open to adjusting that advice if it doesn’t seem to serve a particular student well. If you’re not comfortable just taking blanket advice from a stranger on the Internet, there’s actually a very simple experiment you can perform to help you settle on a guessing strategy that works for you.*
Here it is: always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS GUESS on practice tests, and make little marks on your answer sheet to remind yourself which choices were guesses. When you’re done, score your test twice: once with your guesses in there, and once with all your guesses replaced by blanks.
What you’ll probably find is that there isn’t much difference either way, but once you’ve done this on 3 or 4 tests, you’ll start to get a sense of how guessing works for you. By the time the real test comes along, you’ll be comfortable in your guessing strategy, knowing that it’s based not on superstition or blind faith, but science.
If you want to get really crazy and add a bit of granularity into this, that’s possible too. Replace the little mark you were using to signify a guess with a number. Rate your guesses on a scale of 1 (no idea whatsoever) to 3 (got a good feeling about this), and score your test first with all the guesses, then with only the 3-rated guesses, then with the 3- and 2-rated guesses, etc. You could similarly use numbers to note how many choices (if any) you were able to eliminate before you guessed. I wouldn’t go so far down the rabbit hole though; I’m just spitballing here.
* Of course, the best guessing strategy is to never have to worry about guessing because you have prepared so well for the test that nothing can surprise you. But you knew that already, right?
You know what I keep meaning to do? I mark my two final choices (I can usually get it down to 2) — and then see if my gut was right when I guessed. I have never scored it this way — but feeling is that I used to guess wrong more often than I do now. But I need to check it by scoring both ways. Great idea.