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SAT test-taking myths

MYTH #1: Speed is more important than accuracy on the SAT

This just might be the biggest SAT myth out there! Your prep for the SAT exam would be incomplete without an understanding of this tactic. Your score is determined by how many questions you answer correctly and incorrectly.

Speed just might be more important than accuracy in most tests in school because they award partial credit and more points for difficult problems. The SAT does neither! So, in school, if you don’t answer those difficult questions at the end, you’re missing out on a lot of points! But the SAT is not school!

The SAT simply gives you one point for each correct answer and takes away ¼ of a point for each incorrect one. If you rush through problems at the expense of accuracy, not only do you get docked the ¼ point for getting it wrong, but you miss the whole point that you would have received if you got it right!

Your goal should be to get 75% to 90% of the questions you answer correct. If you’re a rare, rare breed and are getting 100% of the questions you attempt correct, sure, you can increase your score by speeding up. I would argue if someone is getting 100% of attempted SAT questions correct, they wouldn’t be reading this!

If your accuracy is less than 90% on attempted questions (which I bet it is!), slow down and get more right. Accuracy is more important than speed. The pacing plan laid out in day 1 of my free e-course will help you decide what accuracy you should shoot for.

MYTH #2: You should go with your first instinct when not sure of an answer

Your first instincts will get you into trouble on two thirds of the test! The only place you should not at least question your hunch is the easy portion. Your first instincts will sometimes be wrong on the medium portion, and will often lead you to incorrect answers in the hard portion of each section. Not sure which ones are easy, medium or hard? Read about order of difficulty in day 1 of my free e-course.

MYTH #3: If an SAT question asks for the least (or greatest) number to meet some condition, rule out the least (or greatest) number in the answer choices

Princeton Review actually teaches this “strategy.” Their logic is that it’s too obvious of an answer to be correct. To prove it’s absolute garbage, turn to pg. 851 (pg. 737 in the first edition) in The Official SAT Study Guide 2nd edition. Problem 15 asks for the shortest distance from the center of a cube to the base, if the volume is 8. If the volume is 8, each side is 2. So our answer is 1. 1 happens to be the least number listed. Princeton Review would have you rule out this correct answer!

Needless to say, Princeton Review’s practice tests have manufactured problems that are consistent with their “strategy.” This is exactly why you should only trust SAT problems from The Official SAT Study Guide.

MYTH #4: You should guess if you can rule out one or more answers on multiple-choice questions

The above statement is an oversimplification. Again, Princeton Review and Kaplan teach this garbage. Don’t believe me – try it out yourself. Next time you take a practice test (only from the The Official SAT Study Guide), mark the questions where you guessed. Score your test with and without those guesses. See for yourself if guessing improves your score. If you’d like more information on why guessing isn’t necessarily a good idea, read my SAT guessing post.

MYTH #5: All answer choices appear equally on the test. Therefore, if your answer sheet doesn’t show a lot of (B) choices you should choose (B) when in doubt.

This is total bologna (buh-LOH-nee). Don’t even go there. That’s like saying the next coin toss is more likely to be heads because the last few were tails. Try it! I’ll pay for your trip to Vegas if you can predict things like that.

MYTH #6: You should not leave any grid-in questions blank because there’s no guessing penalty on that question type

While it’s true the SAT scoring system does not subtract points for wrong answers on grid-ins, the penalty is lost time. In addition to reading through the question, coming up with a solution, writing down the answer, you must bubble in each digit and decimal point. If you’ve worked through a problem and have an answer you’re unsure of, sure, take the time to transfer it to your answer sheet. If there are just a couple minutes left and there are several questions you have not looked at, better to focus on one than take the time to fill in random guesses for all of them. Accuracy is more important than speed on multiple-choice as well as grid-in questions.

MYTH #7: A calculator is required for the “hard” SAT math problems

“Hard” SAT problems simply mean a lot of people missed them on past tests. If a problem required a calculator to solve it, I would bet most students would get it right! Students are amazing with calculators these days! No SAT question requires a calculator. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring and use one. It just means if you’re doing a lot of calculator crunching, you’re probably missing some shortcuts.

Feel free to post comments below, however, I am only answering questions via the forum in the member area (premium membership required) at this time. Keep up the studying!


1. Natalie - March 14, 2009

I just took the SAT today, I also happen to have the Princeton Review, oops… wish I had read this sooner.