Since you’re too smart to fret and pull your hair out over a tough problem, there are two options. You can either skip it and come back, or you can guess. Our survey included many advocates of skipping. “I took practice tests and found out a target score and the number I could skip to get the score,” says a matter-of-fact student who got 700 V, 690 M. According to a 770 V, 800 M scorer, “It’s better to get all the easy questions done that you can, so you aren’t rushing through them later and making stupid mistakes.” Another student was not satisfied with her 690 V, 710 M on her first SAT. “I knew I could do better because I hadn’t managed my time very well, so I taught myself to skip hard questions. (It really does help, even though it feels wrong after taking too many tests in school where you had to answer every question.)” With the new strategy, her score jumped to 760 V and 740 M.

Despite widespread praise for skipping, there were some dissenting voices. One student who scored 610 V, 630 M writes that skipping “misleads an average student into thinking that he or she cannot do a question.” Another potential drawback: skipping means that you must read the question twice, and you may need to remind yourself of its context. This can be especially damaging in the Reading Comprehension, where students who skip are forced to reacquaint themselves with an entire passage. Says a Princeton-bound 730 V, 770 M scorer, “Too much jumping around can be discouraging and/or time-consuming rather than time-saving.” There is also the nightmare scenario of skipping a problem in the test booklet but forgetting to skip on the answer sheet.

If you do skip, watch your oval blackening with extra care.

Write some quick notes in the test booklet next to the problem if you have a thought worth remembering when you come back. If you can eliminate possible answers before moving on, leave a mark to remind yourself which ones you have eliminated.

Students should experiment with the amount of questions they skip. Between three and five is a reasonable number. If you find yourself skipping more than ten, you may need to start trying harder to get an answer before you skip, or making a few more guesses before moving on.

Students who are generally unable to finish the test—but who also get distracted by skipping—can try a modified version of this strategy. Because test questions of each type go from easy to hard (with the exception of Reading Comprehension), some students may prefer to answer every question through the first two-thirds or three-quarters of each section, and then skip around among the hard questions at the end. This strategy allows unbroken concentration at the beginning while limiting time-pressure anxiety. After completing most of the test, students can use the remaining time to decide which of the relatively hard questions at the end of the section they will answer. This method is preferable to working straight through until time runs out because it is always possible that an easy question or two—or perhaps a “hard” question to which you happen to know the answer—will be lurking near the end.

In lieu of skipping, your second alternative for a stumper question is to guess. Which option is best? It depends on the question. If your gut feeling is that more thought will give you a chance to solve the problem, skip it. If you size it up and conclude that more thinking is not going to help, make a guess and move on. As you take your practice tests, ask yourself: Do you often skip a problem and then come back to it, only to make a guess because you still can’t figure it out? If so, you would have been better off to guess the first time and put the question out of your mind.

One thing you should never do is leave a question blank. On the multiple-choice questions that form the majority of the test, ETS awards one point for each question you get right and subtracts one-quarter of a point for every one you get wrong. That means that if you randomly guess at five, the odds are that you will get one right and miss four—with no affect on your score. The idea is to ensure that on average, random guessing will neither hurt nor help you. But guesses on the SAT are rarely random. In most cases, you can eliminate at least one bonehead response. On questions where you have any clue, no matter how faint, a guess is better than no answer.

To gauge the effectiveness of your guessing, we recommend that you monitor how many of your guesses are right and wrong when you take your practice tests. You can do so by making a mark beside each response that is a guess, then checking to see if you got them right. “Taking timed practice tests and making educated guesses sort of go hand-in-hand,” says a student who scored 730 V, 800 M, “By taking mock SATs, I was able to get used to the answers that the test-makers were looking for, and was thus able to reason out answers on the actual test.” Another student who scored 800 V, 730 M says that practice tests “help you find out how good of an ‘educated guesser’ you are so you’ll know how much to trust that skill.”

Source: The Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College.

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