Guessing Strategies for SAT Subject Tests

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be looking at strategies to use for guessing on SAT subject tests, such as the chemistry test. We'll go over when and how to guess to get partial credit on this type of test.

What Are SAT Subject Tests?

Going to school each day can be a challenge. You're forced to take core classes, and maybe you're not in love with all of them. English and history really aren't your thing, but you live for your long block afternoons when you get to have chemistry labs. You can't wait to get to college where you can take the classes you're interested in, but first you have to get into college. You're worried about how your SAT will go, since English isn't your strong suit.

Luckily for you, there are SAT subject tests. Although it might seem crazy to think that another standardized test could be for your benefit, SAT subject tests allow you to show your skills to colleges in the area of your choice. There are many subjects to choose from, and chemistry is just one of them.

The SAT subject tests are standardized tests on common subjects covered in high school
standardized test

Although you'll prepare as best you can, there will always be some questions that are just out of reach. For these questions, it's important to have a viable guessing strategy on hand.

When to Guess

Keep in mind, however, that it's not always beneficial to guess. The SAT subject tests deduct a fraction of a point for wrong answers. For five-choice questions, 1/4 of a point is deducted for wrong answers, for four-choice questions it's 1/3 of a point, and for three-choice questions 1/2 a point is deducted. No points are deducted if you leave an answer blank; you just don't gain any points.

But, don't take this to mean you shouldn't guess. The SAT subject tests penalize you for blind guessing. Using strategies to help you guess can greatly increase the likelihood of getting the answer correct. Let's say you guess on two questions. You miss one question, but use your guessing strategies to get the other correct. You would lose 1/4 of a point, but also gain an entire point. Your net gain would be 3/4 of a point on the test, essentially giving you partial credit for those two questions. Not bad, huh? Next, let's look at strategies that can help you make the most of your guesses.

Guessing Strategies


With a five-choice answer, you have a 20% chance of getting the answer correct by random guessing. However, we can greatly increase the likelihood of getting the answer correct if we can narrow down the choices. If you can eliminate even two of the answer choices, now you have a 30% chance of getting the answer correct. If you can narrow down the question to two answer choices, then you have a 50-50 chance of getting that point.

Start by reading the question carefully. Eliminate answers you know to be incorrect. If you see answers that have nothing to do with the topic posed in the question, you can probably eliminate those, too. For example, if we're looking at a problem on the chemistry SAT subject test about reacting two metals together, the answer is probably not hydration, since the prefix ''hydro'' means water. We can eliminate that answer choice and improve our chances of guessing.


SAT subject tests are timed, so you don't want to use too much time going over extensive calculations for any one problem. In fact, if you find yourself doing lines and lines of calculations, you've probably headed down the wrong path, since all the questions are designed to be answered relatively quickly due to the time constraint. You can use a method called estimation to help you eliminate wrong answers for calculation problems.

Take a look at the problem logically. If the problem on your physics SAT subject test is asking you to find the velocity of a baseball being thrown, you probably won't need an answer in the hundreds range or higher. You can then eliminate answers that fall in these illogical ranges.

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