Note: This post has been updated to reflect changes to the SAT beginning in March 2016.
No wrong answer penalty on the SAT
To skip or not to skip? That is the question…that used to keep SAT students up at night. The old SAT had a wrong answer penalty of -¼ point. So that meant that blind guesses weren’t advisable because the odds were decidedly not in your favor. But the current SAT DOES NOT have a wrong answer penalty. So rejoice! You should ALWAYS bubble in an answer for everything on the SAT.
If your proctor tells you there is one minute left, your first priority should be to put down answers for everything you have left before he or she announces “pencils down.” Unless you are truly unfortunate, you are bound to pick up a few lucky guesses this way and thus get a better score than if you had left answers blank. It’s probably the easiest way out there to improve your SAT score!
When to skip questions on the SAT and come back to them
However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t many instances in which you would want to skip questions and come back to them.
For example, you are under no obligation to do the questions within a section in order. On the Reading test, for example, you might want to do the passages written at a lower reading level first or maybe the science passages instead of the fiction passage if you’re a science geek. Go for it; just make sure you are careful that you are aren’t marking in answers under the wrong numbers.
Sidebar: Let’s take a minute to talk about “careless bubbling.”
Have you ever accidentally bubbled the answer for #19 in the space for #18? Depending on how often you make mistakes like this, omitting answers might lead to disaster—bubbling wrong almost always starts right after a skipped question.
Getting a question right but bubbling it wrong is one of the saddest ways for a test to go sour. It’s also one of the most disastrous.
Or if you start to work on a problem and realize it’s harder than you thought or that it’s taking too much time, do what you can to quickly eliminate wrong answer choices and guess amongst the remaining choices. You can always come back to this question if you have time, but by bubbling in an educated guess now, you are greatly improving your chances that it will pan out in the end versus just bubbling in any old answer.
To skip or not to skip: that’s a really good question
Always make sure you have an answer down for every question before time is called. Remember that you can do the questions within a section in any order, so feel free to skip a question and come back (just make sure to mark it in your test booklet). And if you’ve already started working on a problem, but need to abandon it to move it, make sure you put in an educated guess before you do by eliminating some likely wrong answer choices.
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About Kristin Fracchia
Dr. Kristin Fracchia currently focuses on our MCAT and LSAT Prep, but she also has expertise in a wide range of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, and GMAT, as well as college and grad school admissions. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004. She enjoys the agony and bliss of long distance trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
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