question mark on SAT or ACT test scantron
Have you ever heard of the infinite monkey theorem? It says that a monkey, given an infinite amount of time to type randomly on a typewriter, will eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare. Given an infinite amount of time to fill in answers on a standardized test, a high school student could also randomly bubble in all the correct answers—eventually.

Unfortunately, you will not have an infinite amount of time to guess all the answers on the SAT or the ACT. You will probably end up guessing on some of the questions. And that’s OK! You should guess when you don’t know the answer, when you’re running out of time, or when the question is going to take way more time than it’s worth. We’re going to help you guess strategically so that you can maximize your points—even when you don’t have all the answers.

The Guessing Penalty

First things first: There is no guessing penalty, so you’ve got nothing to lose by guessing. That wasn’t always the case. Prior to March 2016, the SAT did have a guessing penalty; a quarter of a point was subtracted from your raw score for every wrong answer. Since right answers were worth one point each, random guessing was likeliest to result in a score of zero. (With five answer choices, you’d pick the right answer about 20 percent of the time. You’d get 1 full point for the correct answer and lose 0.25 points for each of the 4 wrong answers—all of which would sum to zero.)

When the College Board revised the SAT in 2016, they made it more like the ACT, which has never had a guessing penalty. At present, a wrong answer on either test does nothing to your score—it won’t hurt it, but it can’t help it either. Many students (and their parents) remember the old guessing penalty, and they are afraid to take a chance on a question. That fear of guessing incorrectly can prevent students from picking up a few extra points. Don’t be held back! All you need is a solid guessing strategy.

When to Guess on the SAT and ACT

As you work through each question of an SAT or ACT test, ask yourself, “Can I answer this quickly and accurately?” If the answer is “Yes,” then do the work carefully and answer that question. If the answer is “Maybe,” then save that question until you’ve answered all the others that are better matched with your skill set. If the answer is, “Heck, no!” fill in an answer right then and there. You may think you’ll have time to come back to it, but if you don’t, and time runs out before you fill in that bubble, you will have no chance of picking up that point.

What to Guess

Let’s start with the questions on which you’re totally guessing: What should you fill in? We recommend that you pick your favorite letter and use that for all “blind” guesses. Over the course of the test, some of those are bound to be the right answer. We call this your Letter of the Day, and having one saves time. Since the ACT alternates answer letters, with odd questions having answers (A) through (D) or (E) and even ones having answers (F) through (J) or (K), you’ll need two LOTDs for that test. When you need to guess, just pick your favorite letter(s) and go for it.

You may have heard that the correct answer is most often (C). We don’t know how this rumor got started, but it is definitely not the case. In our analysis of the correct answer for the multiple-choice sections of the eight SAT tests released between 2016 and 2018, the answers are split pretty evenly, as you’ll see below.

Correct Answer










Although (B) has shown up as the right answer slightly more often, you can see that each answer is correct about 25 percent of the time on the SAT. This pattern of roughly equal frequency among the answer choices holds true for the ACT as well, and it is by design. If the correct answer really were most likely to be (C), some students would pick up on the pattern, and it would give them an unfair advantage. Feel free to pick (C) if you’d like, but know that any LOTD you choose is likely to get you some points in the long run if you use it consistently. If you guess on 20 questions over the course of the test, about 5 of those should match your LOTD. Yay, free points!

How to Guess Better

You’ve seen how you can improve your score by guessing from four or five answer choices; now imagine how much further you could improve if you only have to guess between two or three Your odds of guessing the correct answer would increase considerably! Often, trying to eliminate an answer or two is the best approach when you are not sure of how to solve a question, or when you do not have time to work it through completely, but you feel comfortable enough to do more than guess blindly. And the great news is that there are a lot of ways to eliminate answer choices.


On Math questions, ask yourself if there are any answers that just don’t fit. If, for instance, the question said the value must be odd, then get rid of any answers that are even. If there is a figure, check if it is drawn to scale. (On the ACT, all figures are, and the SAT will note when they are not.) If it is drawn to scale, you can use the figure itself to estimate line lengths, angle measures, or even areas, and then eliminate the answers that aren’t likely.


On ACT Science questions, a pair of direct opposites in the answer choices will usually indicate that one of those two choices is right. (We suspect that the ACT test writers think you can get that the concept is important, but not correctly ascertain the relationship.) If you see direct opposites, eliminate the other answers and pick one of the opposites.


On Reading questions, the test writers often include options that are extreme—using words like all , none , or every —or alluding to intense emotions like disgust or rapture. These outliers are rarely the correct answer, so eliminate them before guessing.

English/Writing and Language

On the verbal section that tests grammar (English or Writing and Language), it is not as easy to eliminate answers without working the question, but there are still some opportunities. For example, did you know that a period and a semicolon are interchangeable on these tests? If you see two answers with the same words, and the only difference is a period versus a semicolon, eliminate them both—they are essentially the same answer! The same is true for “therefore” and “consequently.” One could not be right if the other were a choice, so you can eliminate both if you see them presented for the same question. Also, if you spot any slang words or phrases, such as “spot-on” or “weirdnesses” (an actual answer choice on College Board Practice Test 6), eliminate those, and choose a more formal word such as “ideal” or “anomalies.” Finally, look for an answer that’s significantly shorter than the others—it’s often correct. (“DELETE” is correct more often than chance would indicate!)

How to Transform Guesses into a Guessing Strategy

Once you’ve eliminated an answer or two and made your guess—especially if you’re working on a practice test—be sure to learn from the experience. Check your answers, and keep track of how often your guess was right. It may sometimes feel like you always get down to two answers and then pick the wrong one—because those incorrect answers stick in your head. But that’s probably not the case. Once you start keeping track, you can celebrate the times a guess went your way and earned you an extra point. Do this every time you practice for the test, and you will start to get a great sense of when and how to eliminate answers. You’ll also see, as your score improves, that informed guessing—and even blind guessing—are crucial parts of a solid test-taking strategy.

Want to put your guessing strategy into action? Sign up for a free practice SAT or ACT!