# Guessing on the SAT, is it Worth it?

Oct 13

One fact of the SAT examination that causes many students stress is the deduction of marks for incorrect answers. I hope to dispel all of the myths regarding this rule, and explain how to maximize your potential marks on the test.

To begin with, let’s discuss about the purpose of mark deduction for incorrect answers. The rule is that for multiple choice sections, each correct answer receives 1 point, each question left blank receives zero points, and each incorrect answer results in the deduction of 1/4 of a point. It’s important to remember that this does NOT apply to the long answer mathematics section, or the essay section. Let’s assume that a student guesses on a multiple choice question with five answers. Then, they have a 1/5 chance of guessing the correct answer and receiving a mark, and a 4/5 chance of guessing incorrectly and losing 1/4 of a mark. Using a bit of probability math, this results in an average of zero points over a number of questions. This prevents students from gaining points through random guessing.

At this point you may be wondering whether you should ever guess on the SAT. It turns out that you should, but only under certain, limited circumstances. One time when it makes sense to guess when you are almost certain the answer is one of two or three options. This is most likely to happen on the vocabulary section, where knowing one of the words in a pair eliminates two or three of the incorrect options. Let’s assume that you have eliminated three of the options. Then there is a 50% chance of guessing an incorrect answer, and a 50% chance of guessing the correct answer. This averages out to a gain of 3/8 marks per guess in this situation. This means it is definitely advantageous to make a guess. However, the majority of the time, it will be much harder to eliminate answers, such as in the mathematics section. This means that the only area where it really makes sense to guess is in the vocabulary section.

If you have no idea what the answer is, simply move on, and do not waste time trying to guess.

In summation, the only time when it makes sense to guess is when you can almost instantly eliminate 2 or 3 answers, usually in the vocabulary section. Otherwise, simply move on, and save your time to gain points on questions you are able to answer correctly.