Which SAT Questions to Skip
On the SAT, each question will fall into one of three categories: questions you can answer, questions you can’t answer, and questions you could probably answer if you had enough time. This last category is where the right strategy can really help you to improve your score.
When to Move On
For starters, you need to recognize when it’s time to move on to the next question. If you spend too long trying to solve any one problem, you run the risk of not even making it to other questions that you definitely could have answered correctly.
Additionally, if you spend too much time on a question that’s too hard, you waste time that you could have spent correctly figuring out a harder, but still solvable, question.
If, on first read, you can’t eliminate even one answer choice, skip the question entirely. Your time is better spent on questions where you are more familiar with the material.
If you can eliminate one or more answer choices quickly, but narrowing the choices down to just one correct answer is taking too much time, come back later. You should make your way once through the entire section and answer every item that you can solve with minimal effort first, then go back through a second time to tackle the more challenging items.
When to Guess
Understanding when it’s in your favor to guess on the SAT, versus when it will hurt you, comes down to mathematics. Remember, each question has five answer choices. An incorrect answer reduces your raw score by 0.25, while a correct answer is worth 1 point.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you don’t even look at any of the questions and just randomly select bubbles on your answer sheet. Odds are that you would be correct one-fifth of the time — but you would be wrong four-fifths of the time. For each 1 point you gained, you would lose 0.25 points, four times. 4 * 0.25 = 1, so this cancels out the 1 point you gained, leaving you with a net score of zero.
However, if you can eliminate just one answer choice, the odds are now in your favor to guess. Now, random guesses would give you a correct answer once every four times, and an incorrect answer three out of four times. 1 point – (3 * 0.25) = a net gain of 0.25 raw points.
The bottom line: if you can confidently eliminate just one answer, you should guess instead of leaving the answer blank.
Create a Code Language
So, you’ve made your way through the entire section once and answered all the questions you knew you could. You have seven minutes left, and it’s time to make your way back through the section a second time to take a stab at some of the questions you left for later. But…which questions were those, again?
Make the most of those precious last few minutes in each section by clearly marking each question in your test booklet, so you can see at a glance which questions — and which answer choices within that question — are still in need of your attention.
Circle questions to which you want to return. These items are the ones to which you want to draw the most attention, as you’ll need to be able to spot them quickly during the last few minutes of the section. When you go back through, you’ll have no trouble spotting the circled items. Don’t be afraid to make big, bold circles — remember, you want to catch your attention when you’re flipping back through the test booklet.
Draw a large question mark over questions that seem too hard. You don’t want to spend your valuable time on these items instead of easier ones, but there’s always the chance you’ll still have an extra couple of minutes at the end to give these a second look. Remember, if you can eliminate even one answer choice, you make it worth your while to take a stab and guess.
For answer choices, cross out choices that you are confident are wrong. This will save you from having to look again at choices that you’ve already ruled out.
Having trouble deciding between two answers? Lightly circle them to indicate they’re your preferred answers. When you come back, you’ll know immediately that you think you found (or narrowed down) the answer, but that you should still consider the other options.
Leave Yourself Hanging
When you realize you have to move on and leave a question unanswered, make it as easy as possible to pick back up where you left off if you have time at the end to return to it. While the next step in the equation may seem obvious to you in the moment, the memory won’t be as fresh by the time you make your way through the rest of the test.
Before starting the next question, jot down a quick phrase or note reminding yourself of what the next step should be. If it’s a math problem, write the next equation if you can–but don’t solve it.
Not sure what the next equation is? Erase the last answer that you did calculate, leaving the calculation itself. While moving back a step might seem strange at first, when you come back later, being able to jump right in will help jog your memory, and can shave precious seconds off the time it takes to finish.