10 SAT Test Day Tips

Be confident on SAT test day by following these tips to increase your chances of success.

February 25, 2014

Colleges use standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to gauge you academic abilities. It's a baseline assessment to help them see if you will be able to keep up with college curriculum and programs, do well in your prospective major and if you’re likely to find career success after getting your degree. While they have many other ways of judging this in the admissions process, the SAT test is a simple way to measure everyone on the same scale.

When you do your college search, keep in mind that schools typically have a range of SAT scores that are common for their students given the difficulty of the coursework they offer. Typically, the more prestigious the campus, the higher the SAT score range.

The SAT penalizes you for incorrect guessing. For every wrong answer, your score is deducted 1/4 point.

However, if you are going to community college or pursuing an online degree through distance learning, then your SAT scores may not matter quite as much. But depending on what universities or colleges you want to apply to, the SAT scores may carry a heavy weight. Here are tips for giving yourself the best chance to record a high SAT score on your first try.

1. Use the process of elimination.

If you’re not sure of the right answer, try to determine which answers cannot be correct. Wrong answers can sometimes be easier to find than correct answers, because they can be more extreme.

But keep in mind where a question is in a section, as this could affect the answer choices. Since easier questions are usually at the beginning of a test, what seems like the correct answer is likely to be correct. At the end of a section, an answer that seems correct on first glance may be an incorrect answer just meant to distract you from solving the problem.

You can also use the elimination process while you do your college search, if you’re having trouble narrowing down the colleges you like. Make a list and take off colleges that don’t have what you are looking for until you narrow your list down to a more manageable number.

2. Only guess if you can definitively eliminate at least one answer.

The SAT penalizes you for incorrect guessing. For every wrong answer, your score is deducted 1/4 point. Mathematically, this means your odds are best if you answer a question only if you can eliminate two or more answers. If you can't find even one wrong choice, then it's best to skip it and move on to the next question.

An exception to this rule is the math grid-ins, where there is no penalty for guessing. For these questions, it’s best to guess, since there are no deductions for wrong answers, and you will get points if you guess correctly.

3. Make use of your text booklet.

No one will read your text booklet, so write down any information that is helpful to you during the test. You can underline words and take notes in the reading section, write down math formulas and work out problems and make marks on wrong and right answer choices.

4. Transfer your answers at the end of the section.

Don't transfer each answer to the scantron as you finish it in the booklet. Transfer them at the end, when you are done with the section. This will save you time and can mean fewer mistakes.

5. Don't rush through the questions; read carefully.

There is a better chance of getting the right answers if you don't do them in a hurry. It's better to answer 75 questions out of 100 and get most of them correct then to do the whole 100 and get just 45 right. So slow down, read each question carefully and give yourself enough time to answer each one.

6. Start with the easy questions.

Leave the more difficult questions for the end. Use your time to do the easier questions first, by skipping tough questions and coming back to them if there’s time. The questions that are intended to be the easiest are at the beginning of the test, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the easiest questions for you. Measure by what feels easier for you. If you’re taken practice tests, you already have a good idea of the types of questions you answer correctly and the ones that tend to stump you. Let this be your guide during the actual SAT test.

7. Double-check your answers at the end.

Before handing back the test, double-check your answers. Make sure you filled in all the ovals with the correct answers.

8. Avoid Second-Guessing Yourself

There’s a lot to be said for following your instincts when it comes to standardized tests. It's most likely that your first answer will be the correct one. Avoid going back and changing your answers unless you are sure you made a mistake.

9. Arrive at the testing location early.

You don't want to put yourself through unnecessary stress before your test. Double-check the test location one or two days before and make sure you know where it is. Arrive there early. It's better to wait than to be late.

10. Relax the night before your test.

You have probably already studied all you can. The night before the test you should relax and try not to think about it. Stress won't help you at all during your test. Once you enroll at a university or college, being able to relax the night before a test will turn out to be a very handy skill.

Need more help? These test preparation resources can help:

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