Hey everyone! My name’s Aaron and I’m a senior at Harvard concentrating in government (that’s Harvard speak for “majoring in political science”–we like to give everything weird names here). I’ve been tutoring with HSA since my freshman fall and my favorite subjects to teach are math and writing.
My tip has to do with the lack of a guessing penalty on the ACT and the new SAT (starting March 2016). Say the right answer to a question is B. The machine that scores your exam can’t tell the difference between you putting B because you knew it was the right answer, because you guessed wildly, or because you thought the right answer was A, but misbubbled your answer sheet. It’s therefore crucial that you always put an answer for every question. Randomly guessing the right answer gets you just as many points as thinking carefully about a problem and getting it right. Of course, you’ll get a lot more answers right with careful thinking that wild guessing, but sometimes you just run out of time and that’s when you need to make sure you need to grid something in each line. When your proctor calls one minute remaining, pick your favorite letter and start bubbling away! Leave no question blank; these are the easiest points you’ll ever get! Odds are you’ll get 1 in 5 right (for sections with 5 answer choices) and 1 in 4 right (for sections with 4 answer choices).
Say for example you’re currently getting 28 out of 28 right on the ACT science and not getting to the other 12 questions. Your twenty-eight right will get you something around a 23 scaled score depending on the year, but odds are you’ll get another 3 questions right by guessing on average, which will boost your score to around a 25. Even if the time you spend guessing prevents you from answering that twenty-eighth question right, you’ll still get a 25 depending on the year. While that difference might not seem huge, that’s a pretty big boost to your score when all you’re doing is a little bubbling!
This trick will be especially important on the new SAT where the longer sections make it more likely you won’t finish, but the removed guessing penalty makes it crucial to answer every question. If you’re taking the SAT before March though, make sure to NOT follow this advice. The guessing penalty will still be in effect and this will likely cost you more points that it will earn you. For the ACT and the new SAT though, always put an answer for every question, even if it’s a complete guess.