Welcome to Test Prep 101! Today we’ll be covering the simplest yet most effective strategy for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. And that strategy is… (*drumroll, please*)

Don’t leave ANY questions blank.

You’re rolling your eyes right now—I feel it through the screen. Well, just hear me out. Every time I begin coaching a new student, I always peep at the answer sheet of his or her first test. Surprisingly often, I see that multiple questions at the end of each section have been left blank: a clear sign that the student ran out of time. While this isn’t a huge deal on a practice test, ensuring that no questions are blank on an official test can make a significant impact on your score.

A Case Study

Let’s consider an example from SAT Reading. This is an intimidating test for many, consisting of 52 questions to be answered in 65 minutes. It’s easy to get caught up in a difficult passage or two, and those 65 minutes are almost gone before you know it (time flies when you’re having fun, right?)

Imagine two students in this situation, both of whom only had time to attempt 40 of the 52 questions, and both of whom have correctly answered 33 of these. With one minute remaining in the section, Student A says, “Oh, well,” and lays down his or her pencil. Student A earns a raw score of 32, equating to a scaled Reading subscore of 29 (out of a possible 40)*.

Student B takes a different approach, bubbling in “A” on all twelve remaining questions as the final seconds tick away. Statistically, since each guess has a 25% chance of being correct and there’s no penalty for wrong answers, Student B is likely to add three more points to his or her raw score, which in turn equates to a scaled Reading subscore of 31 on this test.

These Reading subscores later combine with the Writing & Language subscores to create the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (out of 800). Without doing any extra work, Student B has gained a 20-point advantage over Student A.

More Tips for Strategic Guessing

Here are two scenarios in which guessing can work in your favor:

  1. If you’re completely out of time and have one minute or less remaining in a section, guess!

  2. If you have a few minutes left in a section but know you don’t have time to complete all the problems, do NOT try to rush through all of them and pick choices that seem correct at first glance (those are often trap answers!). Rather, continue to work carefully and strategically, guessing on any remaining questions during the final seconds of the test.

Well, there you have it. This is almost too simple to be considered a “strategy”, but for a situation in which a single right answer can bring you up to a higher score threshold, guessing is an extremely valuable contingency plan if you’re struggling with pacing/time management. So if you aren’t already, I strongly encourage you to start practicing the art of the guess.

Want more tips and personalized testing advice? Schedule a consultation to get started with your Testive prep today!

*Note: each test is scaled slightly differently, and this only one possible scenario