SAT Scores Myths

  • Taking timed practice tests is the best way to improve your score.
  • Speed is more important than accuracy.
  • You should go with your first instinct when not sure of an answer.
  • You should guess if you can rule out one or more answers on multiple-choice questions.
  • All answer choices appear equally on the test therefore, if your answer sheet doesn’t show a lot of (B) choices you should choose (B) when in doubt.

MYTH: Taking timed practice tests is the best way to improve your score

Think about a professional sport for a second. Football, track & field, marathon running, hockey, you name it. All of the athletes that compete in these sports surely play scrimmages and actual games or run races under timed conditions, but they spend more of their time conditioning, doing drills, and reviewing their performance with a critical eye.

For SAT training, taking timed practice tests is a great thing to do. It familiarizes you with what’s on the test as well as how you need to pace yourself to maximize your score. However, reviewing those tests is more important than simply taking them. After grading your practice test you should flag each missed or borderline question and decide why you didn‘t get it right. It should fall into one of three categories:

  1. Careless mistake or ran out of time
  2. Didn’t know concept
  3. Didn’t recognize approach to solve problem

If you have more than a couple careless mistakes per test you need to figure out why you’re making them. Saying, “stupid mistake, won’t do that next time” is not specific enough. Were you going too fast? Visit pacing plan in SAT preparation. Did you do too much work in your head? Read about getting physical in SAT math strategies. Did you make a mistake setting up an equation or in a calculation? See Estimating on that same page.

If you didn’t know the concept required for the problem, go learn it! Spark Notes has a great SAT skills section. More important than reading about the concept, you need to master it, then practice it on real SAT questions. You should own the College Board’s The Official SAT Study Guide: For the New SAT.

If you got stuck and didn’t recognize an approach to solve a problem, learn more SAT math strategies. As with reviewing math concepts, it’s most important to apply and practice what you’ve learned — don’t just read about it!

For every hour you spend taking a test, you should spend two to four hours learning, practicing then applying what came up in that test.

MYTH: Speed is more important than accuracy

This just might be the biggest SAT myth out there! Your prep for the SAT exam would be incomplete without an understanding of this tactic. Your score is determined by how many questions you answer correctly and incorrectly. Speed just might be more important than accuracy in most tests at school because they award partial credit and more points for difficult problems. So if you don’t answer those difficult questions at the end, you’re missing out on a lot of points! But the SAT is not school!

The SAT simply gives you one point for each correct answer and takes away ¼ of a point for each incorrect one. If you rush through problems at the expense of accuracy, not only do you get docked the ¼ point for getting it wrong, but you miss the whole point that you would have received if you got it right!

Your goal should be to get about 90% of the questions you answer correct. If you’re a rare, rare breed and are getting 100% of the questions you attempt correct, you can increase your score by speeding up. I would argue if someone is getting 100% of attempted SAT questions correct, they wouldn’t be reading this page! If your accuracy is less than 90% on attempted questions, slow down and get more right. Accuracy is more important than speed. Visit pacing plan in SAT preparation to help you decide what accuracy you should shoot for.

MYTH: You should go with your first instinct when not sure of an answer

Your first instincts will get you into trouble on two thirds of the test. The only place you should not at least question your hunch is the easy portion. Your first instincts will sometimes be wrong on the medium portion, and will often lead you to incorrect answers in the hard portion of each section. Not sure which ones are easy, medium or hard? Read about pacing in SAT preparation.

MYTH: You should guess if you can rule out one or more answers on multiple-choice questions

This is an oversimplification. Don’t believe me — try it out yourself. Next time you take a test, mark the questions where you guessed. Score your test with and without those guesses. If you’d like more information on why guessing isn’t always a good idea visit SAT guessing.

MYTH: All answer choices appear equally on the test. Therefore, if your answer sheet doesn’t show a lot of (B) choices you should choose (B) when in doubt.

This is total bologna (buh-LOH-nee). Don’t even go there. That’s like saying the next coin toss is more likely to be heads because the last few were tails. Try it! I’ll pay for your trip to Vegas if you can predict things like that.

Understanding these myths is a great start in your SAT exam preparation. Jot them down and read them over before you take your next practice test.

SAT Math Prep: Understanding myths about the SAT math section

SAT Math Myths

  • You should not leave any grid-in questions blank because there’s no guessing penalty on that question type.
  • You shouldn’t memorize math formulas as they’re provided on the test.
  • The New SAT covers complicated math concepts.
  • A calculator is required for the hard SAT math problems.

MYTH: You should not leave any grid-in questions blank because there’s no guessing penalty on that question type

While it’s true the SAT scoring system does not subtract points for wrong answers on grid-ins, the penalty is time lost. In addition to writing down the answer, you must bubble in each digit and decimal point. If you’ve worked through a problem and have an answer you‘re unsure of, sure, take the time to transfer it to your answer sheet. If there are just a couple minutes left and there are several questions you have not looked at, better to focus on one than take the time to fill in random guesses for all of them. Accuracy is more important than speed on multiple-choice as well as grid-in questions.

MYTH: You shouldn’t memorize math formulas as they’re provided on the test

You should memorize the given formulas while preparing for the SAT math section for three reasons:

  1. You’re wasting valuable time if you need to flip back to that page to hunt for a formula.
  2. If you don’t have them memorized you might turn back to that page looking for a formula that isn’t there.
  3. There are formulas you need to memorize that are NOT provided on the test.

MYTH: The New SAT covers complicated math concepts

While some Algebra II topics are covered on the SAT, the majority of the material is learned by freshman year. Of course they don’t hand it to you like your 8th grade teacher did, but the concepts are basic. Your job is to cut through their language to find the basic concepts. Knowing the math basics and SAT math strategies will help you do this.

MYTH: A calculator is required for the hard SAT math problems

“Hard” SAT problems simply mean a lot of people missed them on past tests. If a problem required a calculator to solve it, I would bet most students would get it right! Students are amazing with calculators these days! No SAT question requires a calculator. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring and use one. It just means if you’re doing a lot of calculator crunching, you’re probably missing some shortcuts.

Understanding these math myths is a great start in your SAT math preparation. Jot them down and read them over before you take your next practice test.


Should I Guess on the SAT?

The majority of test takers have heard there’s a “guessing penalty” on the SAT. This is a partial truth. While the computer grading system has no way of knowing which answers were guesses, it does subtract a fraction of a point for wrong answers.


Many major test prep companies encourage guessing on SAT questions if one or more answers can be ruled out. See table below for a sample of this oversimplified logic. Their logic states that statistically, in the long run scores will increase with “educated guessing” because the points received for correct guesses are greater than the fractions lost for those missed. This logic is flawed for most guessers for three reasons:

1. It assumes the ruled out answers are, in fact, incorrect. If test takers fall for one of the many SAT traps to determine an answer looks wrong, they’re out of luck no matter how much guessing karma they have!

2. Once the guesser correctly rules out one or more answers, (s)he is likely to choose the final answer based on what looks right (This is not random guessing!) That’s right, the test writers have laid traps with answers that look right and they’ve included questions with correct answers that look wrong.

3. Even if the guesser correctly rules out one or more answers, and randomly chooses one of the remaining answers, (s)he is not likely to do this enough on a single test for the statistics to reliably play out (ever heard of too small a sample size?). Everyone knows that landing heads on a fair toss has a probability of 50%. Does that mean it will definitely land heads 2 out of 4 times? 5 out of 10? 15 out of 30? No way! It’s not unusual to land heads (or tails) more than 20 out of 30 times. This same principle applies to your guessing on a handful of questions.

Potential benefit for SAT guessing on 100 questions

Rule out before guessing Likely correct answer points  Likely incorrect answer points Likely net increase
0/5 20 ¼ of 80 = -20 0
1/5 25 ¼ of 75 = -18.75 6.25
2/5 33 ¼ of 66 = -16.5 16.5
3/5 50 ¼ of 50 = -12.5 37.5

NOTE — for the above table to have any significance, the following three conditions must be met:

1. Correct answer is never ruled out
2. Guessing is truly random
3. Guesses are made for a significant number of questions (the above table was based on 100 guesses! There are only 54 in the entire math section!)


If you’d like to increase your SAT score through guessing, do yourself a favor. Learn how to recognize SAT traps and where they frequently occur, as well as common mistakes made in ruling out answers. Then guess randomly from the remaining choices. I suggest choosing the same letter all the time, such as (A) or if that was ruled out, then (B) or if that was ruled out, then (C), etc.

Some people benefit from guessing in the verbal section but not the math, while others gain points from guessing in the easy portion but not the medium or difficult ones. Many test takers consistently lower their score altogether from guessing!

Don’t take my word for it! Next time you take a practice test, put a mark by questions where you guessed. Score your test with and without those guesses. You tell me, should you guess on the SAT?


What is a good SAT score?

For years past, many dynamics have played a part in the admission process…essays, interviews, community involvement (i,e., extra curricular activities), recommendations written by teachers or community leaders, your high school GPA, and your SAT scores. More and more colleges in the last decade or two are questioning the validity of SAT scores. Do good SAT scores really predict success in college? Do bad SAT scores predict failure?

There are three sections on the SAT: Writing, Math and Critical Reading worth a possible 800 points each. An average SAT score is around 1540 out of 2400 points. Students with an average SAT score have many options, but a score above 2100 would place you in the 90th percentile (meaning you scored better than 90% of the test takers) and might cause the “name brand” schools to take a closer look at your admission application.

Listed below are some colleges that require SAT scores and “rough, unofficial estimates” of the SAT scores for those admitted at each school.

Iowa State – 1825
Ohio State – 1800
DePaul – 1750
Arizona – 1700
Indiana University- 1650
Brown University – 1380
Harvard – 2200
Williams – 2125
University of Virginia – 2000
UCLA – 1900

As previously mentioned, there are many colleges that are “SAT optional.” In fact, some of the administrators at these SAT-optional schools claim that the test is “not a good predictor of success in college.” They also argue that the SAT “exaggerates the difference between wealthy students whose families can afford expensive SAT prep courses and poorer students who see the exam for the first time on test day.” If this is true, then the SAT isn’t serving the purpose for which it was designed, which is to give equal opportunity to all students.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest (a research center that is opposed to standardized tests) says, “SAT-optional, it seems, is no longer a euphemism for ‘second-rate.’ Many of the most selective campuses in the country are concluding that they can make better admissions decisions without the SAT.” Students who don’t necessarily score well on standardized tests would be relieved to know that their admission to certain colleges could be based on other strengths, such as personal interviews and serving in their community.

Many colleges and universities have gone the way of SAT optional in their admissions process. The schools listed below are ones who consider the SAT scores only if the minimum GPA or class rank requirements are not met.

University of Texas
George Mason University in Virginia
Black Hills State University (SD)
Iowa State University University of Wisconsin-Stout (Menomonie, WI)
Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
Texas A&M; University (Galveston, TX)
Tennessee Temple University (TN)
University of Michigan (Flint, MI)
East Tennessee State University

Remember, just because a school is SAT optional does not mean it is easier to be admitted there. It simply means they rely more heavily on the other factors for your admission (essays, interviews, extra curricular activities, recommendations & GPA).

So, what is a good SAT score? We can conclude that a good SAT score is different for each student and college. Many schools often accept students with average SAT scores while others rarely do. We can also conclude that, depending on which colleges are candidates, SAT scores may not even be necessary for admission!

If you ARE looking into schools that require SAT scores, be sure to maximize your score by preparing for the test. A good SAT score for you is probably 100-200 points higher than your score the first time you take the test.


Preparing to Take Your SAT Exam?

If you own one of the popular two to three-inch thick SAT study guides, you’ve probably cracked it but feel a little intimidated at the sheer size of the book. Most students make the mistake of reading through it cover to cover, and spending countless hours wasting their time taking practice test, after test, after test.I’m here to tell you that method is a complete waste of time! Sure, it’s better than doing nothing at all, but there is a far better way. Through practicing the right method, getting prepared for the SAT exam will seem like a piece of cake. In fact, if you apply the simple techniques I’ll recommend, you’ll walk into your exam feeling like the smartest student in the room.