Fact-Checking the SAT

We’ve all witnessed the fact-checking that has accompanied the 2012 election season. Now it’s time for the SAT to get the same treatment. Take a look at some of the biggest claims people make about the test:

Claim #1: If you don’t know the answer, you should always guess C.

Verdict: FALSE. This one has been around forever, but there is no truth to this claim. In fact, the laws of probability ensure that C is correct 20% of the time… just like every other answer choice. If you don’t have any idea and can’t reasonably eliminate one or two options, you should leave that question blank.

Claim #2: You get more points for hard questions than easy questions.

Verdict: FALSE. Unlike the ones on your school exams, the questions on the SAT are worth the same number of points regardless of difficulty level.  Don’t spend too much time trying to solve that tough question early on. Make sure you get the easy ones right, and then come back to the hard questions.

Claim #3: If you can eliminate only one answer choice as wrong, but don’t know the answer, you should take a guess anyway.

Verdict: TRUE. Every correct answer on the SAT is worth one point, with only one quarter of one point deducted for every incorrect answer on a multiple choice question. Statistically, as long as you can eliminate one answer choice, you’ll come out ahead if you always guess in this situation.

Claim #4: You need to know advanced math to do well on the SAT.

Verdict: FALSE. Most of the math questions on the SAT use basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry principles. They often appear more difficult than they really are (intentionally), but you don’t need to take advanced math classes to do very well on the math section.  What makes SAT math challenging is that you learned most of the content before ninth grade – who still remembers that stuff?

Claim #5: Creativity is rewarded on the essay.

Verdict: FALSE. Essay graders aren’t looking for the next Shakespeare; they’re looking for a clean explanation of your position on the question. Writing a bare-bones essay with a clear thesis and supporting arguments will always get you a better score than a creative essay full of descriptive language and innovative structure.

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