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

When to Guess on the SAT Math Section

ePrep  Math  SAT  Videos
Karl Schellscheidt

eprep test prep video
I would like to briefly share my thoughts with you on guessing on the SAT math problems and geting you prepared for the SAT math prep. There are a lot of experts out there who say that if you can eliminate at least one wrong answer it is to your advantage to guess. I think that is pretty good advice but I have a different philosophy. My philosophy is when you think about SAT math questions it is black and white; there is a right answer and a wrong answer.

Guessing In the Critical Math Section (transcript)

I would like to briefly share my thoughts with you on guessing in the math section. There are a lot of experts out there who say that if you can eliminate at least one wrong answer it is to your advantage to guess. I think that is pretty good advice but I have a different philosophy. My philosophy is when you think about math it is black and white; there is a right answer and a wrong answer. There is nothing in between. I did a written blog on the valedictorian of Princeton University and what I discussed in that written blog is that almost every year the valedictorian is a student from math or science. The reason is that in math and science if you are an off the charts genius and you get every single problem right on the homework, quizzes and test; you are going to get an A+ in every single class regardless if the teacher likes you or recognizes your brilliance. When you think about the humanities of liberal arts; it is very subjective. If you are a terrific writer but you get one teacher along the way who does not recognize your brilliance, you are going to get an A, A- or a B+ and you are out of the running for being first in your class.

When I think about the verbal section I think there is a lot of room for different opinions. When you do a problem on the SAT math I think this is how you should spend your time. You should spend about 45 or 50 seconds reading the question until you finally understand what the question and the situation is all about. If you do not make that investment in time you are not going to get the right answer. If you read it once and you do not get it, do not panic. I am pretty good at these problems and I have to read them a few times to understand what is going on in a lot of the problems. Read it a few times; make that investment in time. If at the end you understand clearly what is going on in the problem, and you know how to get the right answer, the answer will be obvious to you. If at the end of that 45 to 50 seconds you feel like you are not getting anywhere just skip it and move on.

Let’s talk about the notion of eliminating one or two wrong answers. My philosophy is either you are going to get it or you or not going to get it. To me there is not much in between. The people who make the SAT are going to put a lot of tricks in the problems. If you are not clearly understanding the problem and getting one single answer, what makes you think you are narrowing it down to the right two. If you can not understand the problem fully and completely, you probably are not seeing all that is there. The two you think you are eliminating may not be the right two to eliminate; the answer might be in those two. So I would just leave it blank and move on. There are fifty-four questions and I would say you have two free guesses. This is why I think you have two free guesses: You lose a quarter of a point for each wrong answer. Let’s say you guess on two and you get those wrong; your raw score is going to go down a half a point but it is going to round back up again. If you get two wrong and you go from a thirty-four to a thirty-three and a half it gets rounded back up to a thirty-four. Those are two freebies for you.

In the free response section it is a little different. There are no answer choices so there is no penalty for a wrong answer. When you get to the free response that is number nine to eighteen (which is usually in the middle section) you can guess freely if you want. You should obviously read the problems and try to get the right answer but let’s say you are running out of time and there are three problems that you have not gotten to. Before time is called you might as well write down some answers. What should you write down if you have not got a good look at a problem? My suggestion is if you can spend a few seconds looking at a problem and getting a good feel for it and lets’ say for example it is a problem on probability and you know the answer has to be zero, etc… Cleary you want to answer in that range. You do not want to throw down the number twenty.

If you get to a problem that you do not understand or you do not get to a problem and you want to put an answer, my suggestion is you put down the problem number. For number eighteen write down eighteen as your answer and for number sixteen if you have not gotten that one write down sixteen in your answer. I give that advice because I have done a lot of SAT’s over the years and often times the answer will match the problem number in that section. It is better than nothing. So give it a shot and take my advice even though it is a little different than what you hear from other experts and hopefully it will help you maximize your score.

Karl Schellscheidt
ePrep, Inc.

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