[IPAC-List] Guessing on the SAT/ACT

Saul Fine saulfine at zahav.net.il
Mon May 3 10:25:14 EDT 2010

Excellent response from Kelly.
It's more of a penalty for wrong answers which acts to correct for random
Assuming different response rates for the distrators (i.e., that guessing is
really done after first narrowing down 1 or more options), would it make
sense to apply differential penalties?

----- Original Message -----
From: "Kelly Sorensen" <kelsoren at gmail.com>
To: <IPAC-List at ipacweb.org>
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 4:53 PM
Subject: Re: [IPAC-List] Guessing on the SAT/ACT

>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.,


> 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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