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Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    International Office Director

Bubbling: Avoid Mistakes in Your Answer Key

Karl Schellscheidt

free sat test videoI have tutored countless extremely bright students over the years. Yet many of them occasionally fall into the trap of working out a problem correctly only to then shade in the wrong answer choice. I have some advice on recording and bubbling in your answers that may help you get all the points you deserve.

Bubbling: Avoid Mistakes in your Answer Key (transcript)

Karl Schellscheidt: Something I’d like to discuss right now is called “bubbling.” The term “bubbling” with regard to the SAT is used to refer to bubbling in your answers. And the reason I feel like I need to talk about it is because I’ve been tutoring for years and I’ve met a lot of kids who will sort of grade their answers and they’ll get a given one wrong and then will go back to that one.

And I’m assuming that when we go back to it that they must have messed something up somehow in the solution and I’m going to have to now explain to them why they got it wrong or how to get the answer right. Then the kid will look at it and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly what I did and that was my answer.” Next they look at their answer sheet and say, “I bubbled in the wrong one. I knew the answer was C; I don’t know why I bubbled in B.”

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of students actually do that where they just can’t explain why they did it. They get a certain answer and they bubble in a different slot. They get the number right, it’s number 7, that’s right but “I bubbled in C instead of B,” or vice versa.

After they’ve made that mistake the first time I say, “Listen, we have now figured out that you are capable of bubbling in the wrong answer. How are we going to deal with that?” Because that is the most frustrating way to lose a point on the SATs. I think what a lot of kids do is, work on a problem, get the answer, bubble it into their answer sheet, and move onto the next problem. They do the next problem, get an answer, and bubble in their answer sheet.

When you look at a page on an SAT usually it contains several problems. In the math, for example, there will be maybe four or five questions on a page; in the reading comprehension it could be as many as eight on a given page. So what I suggest to students is, when you’re working on the test, just work in the answer booklet. Begin the test with number one, obviously, and go in and get let’s say it’s a math section, there are four on a page, get those four done. As you finish each problem, just mark your answer in the test booklet and move onto the next one. And so what you’re doing is you’re really just focusing on the math and you’re recording your answers as you’re working out the problem in the booklet. When you finish that page, before you move onto the next page, take those four or five questions and bubble those into your answer sheet.

I think that the reason why this helps eliminate those types of careless errors is you’re concentrating on math and once you finish the math you’re not concentrating exclusively on bubbling in. When you separate the two tasks you’re much less likely to mess it up.

And so my point is that when you have found out that you are capable of bubbling in a wrong answer, you need to change your technique. My suggestion is do a full page, record your answers, then move onto the next page.

As you get closer to the end of the test you want to revert back to the old way, and when you’re getting towards the end of the test go problem for problem. What you don’t want to do is have a completely finished page in your booklet, you haven’t bubbled it in, and they say, “Put your pencil down,” and you’ve got four that are unrecorded. I think you’re most likely to mess up at the beginning of a test when you’re still not warm and you’re maybe a little bit nervous.

Use my technique when you’re at the beginning of the test. When you get towards the end, go question for question. When they say, “Put your pencil down,” put your pencil down and that’s the way to maximize your score.

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