Monday, April 12, 2010

Don’t Quit, and Don’t Omit, on the New SAT!!!

What is the highest score possible you can earn on the SAT exam? A 2400. That means it’s a perfect score, right? That means you answered every question correctly, right? No way! You can get as many as two questions wrong in every section of the SAT and still get a perfect score. Many students don’t realize this, and sadly, do not achieve anywhere near a 2400 because they employed a testing ‘tip’ that is lethal. The advice to which I refer is the suggestion to omit questions on the SAT, and this decision, if followed, can kill your chances of getting into the school of your dreams.

Do you want a 2400? If so, you’ll have to answer every single question. Don’t be afraid of the “guessing penalty,” which on the SAT means that for every wrong answer chosen, the test taker will lose a quarter point. I encourage you to answer every question. Remember that no one ever got a perfect score on the SAT by answering only 60 percent of the test. The more questions you answer, the higher your chances of hitting a perfect 800 in each section. If you only answer half the test, don’t expect to do better than getting half the score. It’s that simple; leaving questions out on the SAT will gravely endanger your chances of excelling on the SAT, and ultimately hurt your chances of getting into top colleges.

Don’t Quit, and Don’t Omit, on the New SAT!!!

In the previous issue, I stressed that obtaining a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT exam was possible, but that it was imperative to answer every question. I also discussed the “guessing penalty,” which means that for each incorrect answer chosen, the test taker loses a quarter of a point. However, for each correct answer, the test taker gains a whole point on his or her raw score.

It surprises me, then, that many prestigious test prep companies recommend that students skip test questions when they don’t know the exact answer. Following this advice is a recipe for disaster if, you, the test taker needs to earn a perfect score. My advice is that you should at least narrow your choices down, hope for the best, and guess. After all, if you only answer part of the test, don’t expect to do better than obtaining part of the score.

So how does the “Guessing Penalty” affect scores on the SAT? Well, there are approximately 170 questions plus a graded essay. The highest possible score is 2400 which is derived by carefully combining the scores from the reading, writing, and math sections of the test. As explained earlier, for each question answered, the test taker receives one raw point. For each incorrect answer, the test taker loses one quarter point. This loss is infamously known as the “guessing penalty”. For each question that is omitted (not answered at all), the test taker neither loses nor gains any points. The problem is that with this knowledge, many students opt to omit one too many questions because they fear the repercussions of the guessing penalty. However, following the advice to omit is detrimental because it is impossible to score well on the SAT without answering nearly every question.

Here is an easy example to elaborate my point: John prepared with an SAT test prep company whose instructor advised him to skip questions he did not know due to the guessing penalty for picking wrong answers. John doesn’t know the answer to three or four questions in each section. He thinks to himself that this is no big deal. In each section, he’s able to answer over twenty questions. On test day, he leaves the exam room with a grin and eagerly awaits his SAT score. John hopes to get accepted into a super competitive Ivy League college that accepts just of fraction of its applicants. John has a terrific resume: He’s a superior tennis athlete and ranks in the top 50 in the Boys 18s. Furthermore, he’s a member of the National Honor Society in his high school. All he is missing now is a top-notch SAT score and he will be on the road to attending the school of his dreams. Much to John’s dismay, however, he only scored a 1550 total on the new SAT, barely reaching the 50th percentile. “What went wrong?” He ponders.

The testing advice he followed, as previously noted, was a recipe for disaster. John skipped only three to five questions per section, which at the time did not seem like much, but being that there are 10 sections on the SAT, John left out nearly 40 questions, thus lowering his score by as many as 400 points. (Had John gone to Kweller Prep Intensive SAT Tutoring, or any other Extreme SAT preparation center, he would have learned how to tackle the last few ever-so-convoluted questions on each and every section of the new SAT, thus reaching his collegiate goals.) By leaving out nearly 30 percent of the questions on the SAT, John did much more harm to his score than good; while he may have not suffered from the notorious “guessing penalty” on some of the SAT questions, he wound up not getting any points at all for those questions.
The New SAT is a very hard test. Taking the test is a grueling process and it is truly a test of endurance. With 10 sections, one 25 minute essay, and it’s tightly timed format, the New SAT can pose many obstacles for the ambitious college bound student. The test taker needs to learn how to tackle the ever so convoluted last few questions of each section on the test, not to omit them. Again, leaving out the answers is not the solution, so please don’t do it!
Don’t Quit, and Don’t Omit, on the New SAT!!!


In the first two articles of this series, I discussed a strategy crucial to obtaining the highest score possible on the SAT exam: you must answer every question on each section of the new SAT test in order to reach your maximum score potential. Let’s take a look at an example of a student who omitted several answers.

One of the girls I tutored for the SAT’s while I was in law school, Kristin, was devastated that she scored a mere 1880 on the New SAT. How could this be? She cried, “I felt like I answered every single question correctly!” The truth was that she did, and after a quick but careful analysis of her SAT score report, I showed her that she got nearly 99 percent of the questions she actually answered right. The problem was that Kristin didn’t answer enough questions to get a higher score. If you don’t answer a question, you neither gain nor lose points. If you guess incorrectly, you lose one quarter point.

Let me make this point excruciatingly clear: There is NO WAY that someone can get an 800 in a section on the SAT without answering or trying to answer every single question. There are exactly 67 questions in the Critical Reading section of the new SAT. Omit just ten questions and the best you can possibly score on the CR will be a 700. Even worse, leave out just ten questions (in total!!!) on the math part of the SAT and your score will drop from a potential 800 to a 660. Omitting merely ten questions on the writing component will drop you down to a 630. By leaving out only two to three questions per section, the highest possible score you can hope for drops from a 2400 to a 1990. So much for “breaking” into a 2000. As I explained this to Kristin, it was as if a light bulb went off; she was now more motivated than ever to try to answer every single question on the SAT correctly. After several months of intensive SAT prep at Kweller, Kristin retook the SAT, answered every question, and scored a 2150. Her score increase did not come easily, but in the end, all her hard work paid off.
Sometimes the truth hurts, but lies hurt much more. The truth is that to excel on the SAT, you have to be able to tackle the last few questions in each and every section of the test. For some, this requires months of intensive preparation. For many, this entails many sacrifices and reprioritizing your time. It is horribly misleading and a terrible mistake to follow the advice that omitting is OK on the SAT. While such a strategy may be beneficial for someone seeking a mediocre SAT score, it is virulent for all others.

Statistically, for every five questions on which you guess, you are bound to get one right. The answers go from A to E, so there is a 20% chance that you will get the question you guessed on correctly. For most students, the odds are even higher, as they have been able to eliminate two to three answer choices before choosing an answer.

Kweller Prep Tutoring: Intense Prep for Intense Kids advises students never to leave questions out on the SAT, despite the fact that so many other test prep companies advise their students to skip the questions they don’t know. Kweller Prep strives to get students to know how to tackle the hard problems on the SAT, not to run away from them. This is perhaps why Kweller Prep students score significantly higher (by 300-400 points) than those who take a generic SAT prep course. Achieving higher scores requires the use of better testing strategies which are carefully designed to maximize one’s SAT score. With that being said, it is imperative that students who seek to score better than average on the SAT not follow such standard test prep advice as it will not allow for a significant increase in their SAT score.

Good luck navigating the ever so convoluted standardized test prep and college admissions process.

Frances Kweller is the founder of Kweller Prep Tutoring and Educational Services in Forest Hills. A lawyer, teacher, tutor, and dreamer, Frances Kweller prepares her students to surpass their goals on the SAT and get into their dream colleges. She offers intensive standardized testing tutoring services, college preparation workshops, and strategic advice on the college admissions process. You can reach her at anytime by calling (917) 499-3913 or sending her an e-mail at or visiting

* SAT is a registered Trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

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