guessing-on-the-psat-sat-act

Should you guess on the PSAT, ACT, or SAT?

If you’ve ever taken a standardized test—like the SAT, ACT, or PSAT—you’ve probably encountered some questions that you didn’t know how to answer. When this happens, you should always guess, even if you have no idea which choice is correct.

The previous version of the SAT had what’s known as a “guessing penalty,” meaning points were deducted for any incorrect answer. However, on the tests you’ll take today you do not lose any points for wrong answers, so you should bubble in a response to every question.  

Guessing on the ACT, SAT, or PSAT does two things: it increases your odds of getting a correct answer, and it makes strategic use of your time by letting you focus your energy (and time) on questions that you know how to do.

That said, there are ways to guess strategically. To help you make the most out of your guesses, consider these test-day tips:

 

  • Use the “letter of the day” strategy.

    Before beginning the test, choose a letter to use for every guess you make. Maybe your letter is “A for Awesome!” or “D for Done!” It doesn’t matter which letter you choose because they are all equally likely to be correct. What does matter is that you are consistent, as you increase your odds of getting a correct answer if you bubble in the same letter every time.

  • Guess if a question becomes time consuming or confusing.

    You should spend time on the questions that you will be able to answer. If you feel like you are spending too much time on any question, guess and move on. While this may seem like you are giving up too easily, what you’re really doing is being strategic. You can always return to those questions later. Strategic test-takers know to spend their time on questions they are likely to answer correctly, not to stubbornly work through a difficult or time-consuming question before they have seen other, potentially easier, questions.

  • Eliminate obviously wrong answers whenever possible.

    In some cases, you can eliminate answer choices with very little effort. For instance, if a math question asks for the solution for x and tells you that x must be greater than zero, eliminate all negative answer choices. Even if you can’t solve the problem, you should guess from the remaining choices.

  • Guess a simple integer for grid-in questions on SAT and PSAT Math.

    If you have enough time and cannot figure out the answer to a grid-in, you can bubble in your favorite integer, like 1 or 2.

SHOULD YOU GUESS ON THE SAT?: SUGGESTED TIMING

The SAT is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, not counting the optional essay, which will add an additional 50 minutes to the total testing time, including breaks. 

Here is the timing breakdown for each section of the SAT, including the maximum amount of time you should spend per question. If you sense you are taking more than the allotted time for any single question, guess and move on. 

Section Number of Questions Total Time Time Per Question
Reading (5 passage sets) 52 multiple-choice questions 65 minutes 13 minutes per passage. Spend 5 minutes reading each passage and about 46 seconds per question
Writing and Language 44 multiple-choice items 35 minutes 48 seconds per item
Math 58 items: 45 multiple-choice & 13 fill-in 80 minutes 1 minute, 22 seconds per item

SHOULD YOU GUESS ON THE ACT?: SUGGESTED TIMING

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long—with breaks it runs 3 hours and 30 minutes. The ACT Plus Writing is 3 hours and 40 minutes long and just over 40 minutes including breaks. 

Here is the timing breakdown for each section of the ACT, including the maximum amount of time you should spend per question. If you sense you are taking more than the allotted time for any single question, guess and move on. 

Section Number of Questions Total Time Time Per Question
English 75 multiple-choice questions45 minutes36 seconds per question
Math 60 multiple-choice questions 60 minutes1 minute per question
Reading (4 passages)40 multiple-choice questions35 minutes8 minutes and 45 seconds per passage. Spend no more than 4 minutes reading each question and about 30 seconds per question.
Science40 multiple-choice questions 35 minutes52 seconds per question

SHOULD YOU GUESS ON THE PSAT?: SUGGESTED TIMING

The PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes long. 

Here is the timing breakdown for each section of the PSAT, including the maximum amount of time you should spend per question. If you sense you are taking more than the allotted time for any single question, guess and move on.

SectionNumber of Questions Total Time Time Per Question
Reading (5 passage sets) 47 questions 60 minutes 12 minutes per passage. Spend 5 minutes reading each passage and about 45 seconds per question.
Writing and Language 44 items 35 minutes 47 seconds per item
Math 48 questions 70 minutes 1 minute, 27 seconds per item