An SAT “Trick” Debunked- When to Bubble in Your Answers

There are some gems buried in the scads of SAT tips and tricks (like filling in the sentence completion blanks with your own word), but there are also some disasters waiting to happen. Some test prep sites will tell you to do things that might totally screw up your SAT.

Why would that happen? Tips and tricks for the SAT are really tempting to sell because they’re quick advice to impart and they give immediate results—at least, theoretically. But even the best intentioned test-prep guides find themselves selling snake-oil if they’re not careful. SAT tricks may be easy to teach, but they’re not always right.

There’s one “trick” in particular that’s always bothered me—filling in the answer bubbles all at once—and here’s why.


A disaster caused by good intentions

Around the time I first started teaching SAT preparation for one of the major test prep companies, I proctored a practice test for another teacher’s class. Usually, watching over tests is pretty easy, and I knew that—I’d already done a few and knew what to expect. The rules of the test are pretty simple, and when you tell students to put their pencils down, they put their pencils down. …usually.

This one teacher had accidentally sold some bad advice, though. At the end of each section, there were three or fours students who kept furiously bubbling in until they were told, for the second time, “put your pencils down.” See, they’d been told to just circle the answers in their books while working through the section, then transfer answers to the scantron sheet in the last couple minutes. But there was a problem; the students who took that advice consistently misjudged how much time it would take to transfer their answers, and they ended up omitting questions that they didn’t even mean to skip just because they didn’t have time to fill the bubbles. One poor student was only able to bubble in about ten questions out of thirty in one section. You can imagine what that did to her score.

Bubble in answers as you go

The idea sounds attractive—if you bubble in after having found the answers to a group of questions (or an entire section), then you don’t have to go back and forth so often, and you save time. But the truth is that it takes only a little bit more time to bubble in each question individually than it does to bubble them in all at once. The time you might save isn’t worth risking that last minute, frantic bubbling.

Filling in the scantron sheet as you go also takes away the danger of bubbling a long line of answers incorrectly because you skipped one or repeated yourself by accident.


Think twice about whether that “trick” might come back to bite you

There are some good tricks to use when taking the SAT (like scanning verbs), but beware of any that look too good to be true. There’s often another side to the story.



  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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