[IPAC-List] Guessing on the SAT/ACT

Kelly Sorensen kelsoren at gmail.com
Mon May 3 09:53:18 EDT 2010

I want to chime in here because there is a lot of conflicting information
regarding guessing on the SAT, with advice ranging from "never guess" to
"always guess."

First off, people talk about there being a "penalty for guessing" on the
SAT, which isn't exactly true. Basically, ETS is simply trying to prevent
folks from getting more points than they deserve based simply upon guessing,
so it's more of a "correction for guessing" rather than a "penalty." And
maybe I'm splitting hairs, here, but the term "penalty" is much more
intimidating than the term "correction."

On the SAT students generally have 5 multiple choice answers to choose from.
ETS takes off 1/4 a point for each wrong answer. Yet for each correct
answer, the student earns one full point. And, of course, -1/4 + -1/4 + -1/4
+ -1/4 = -1.
And -1 + 1 = 0. And 0 points are what the student would have received had
they not guessed. This is my objection to calling it a guessing "penalty."
This is important for students to know, but often test prep books and even
high school English teacher will tell students not to guess, to guess only
if they can narrow the answer choices down to two, etc. The reason this is
important to know is because students rarely guess at random. As I'm sure
you all know, it is difficult to come up with attractive distractor items.
Students generally can eliminate an answer or two quite easily. There are
also strategies that can be taught to help help eliminate answers (e.g., ETS
doesn't like extreme answers, they aren't going to have an answer choice the
would be insulting to woman or minorities be the correct answer, if the word
is extremely difficult and the student is on problem one in the sentence
completion section then it isn't going to be the answer, or if the word is
extremely easy and it's the last question in that section it isn't going to
be the answer, etc.), so it's rare when a student cannot eliminate any
answer possibilities, even if they don't know why they think an answer
choice should be eliminated.

And of course the SAT is controversial because minorities as a group tend to
score less well...

The ACT does not correct for guessing, so there is no debate on guessing
there, or shouldn't be. One should always guess on the ACT, though of
course, in my opinion, one should always guess on the SAT too.

On Thu, Apr 29, 2010 at 1:54 PM, Chris Hornick <cwhornick at cwhms.com> wrote:

> I have found this to be a very interesting discussion, as my 15 year old

> son

> is in the process of being scarred for life by taking the SAT, ACT and

> other

> placement exams. I have tried to help him understand how guessing can

> affect his score, and I suspect it has about as much value to him as a lot

> of the life experience help I try to offer. I am sure many of you know

> what

> I am saying there! My real comment here is that I think we should be clear

> on what we are trying to accomplish with correcting for guessing on

> employment exams (speeded or not speeded). I don't think it is all that

> critical or helpful in the employment arena. In my estimation, correction

> for guessing on a speeded test is not necessary or helpful. As Dennis

> pointed out, most speeded tests include calculation of both accuracy and

> speed, thus penalizing applicants further by correcting for guessing does

> not make sense to me.

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