SAT Chemistry Test Strategy: Estimation & Elimination

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

There are several strategies for taking the SAT chemistry test. In this lesson we will learn about two of these strategies: estimation and elimination.

The SAT Chemistry Test

Taking the SAT can be extremely stressful; how well you do in just a couple hours will begin to define what your next four years after graduation may look like.

The chemistry section can be particularly daunting, because you are expected to answer 85 questions in 60 minutes. That is almost 1.5 questions per minute, or 45 seconds per question! You need to read the questions, figure out the answer, and fill in the answer bubble very quickly.

In order to help speed up the process there are several techniques you can utilize to help while also being more likely to get the correct answer.

Today we are going to discuss two techniques that are particularly helpful for classification questions, where several questions ask you to choose from the same list of five answers. Each answer on the list can be used once, more than once, or not at all to answer the questions.


One technique to help answer these types of questions is elimination, meaning eliminating answer(s) that you know are wrong, or have made an educated guess as to being wrong. That way you have a better chance of guessing the correct answer (if you don't already know the correct answer).

If you have eliminated three of the five options, then you will end up with a 50-50 chance of simply guessing the correct answer. Even if you can only eliminate 1 answer, having a 25% chance of guessing the correct answer is better than only 20%.

Let's look at this question:

Questions 1-3 relate to the following compounds:

(A) Water

(B) Hydrochloric acid

(C) Acetic acid

(D) Ammonium hydroxide

(E) Sodium acetate

1. A compound with a pH of 11.1

You do not know the exact pH of each, so you do not know the answer to this question. However, looking at this question, you might know that a pH of 11.1 is very basic.

So, to start out, you can begin eliminating answers you know are wrong. The answers that have 'acid' in their name are probably be acidic, not basic. This will eliminate hydrochloric acid and acetic acid (answers B and C).

This leaves us with three answers, and a 1 in 3 chance of guessing the correct answers. You may further know that water has a neutral pH, so it is not highly basic. So, you can also eliminate that answer, leaving you with ammonia and sodium acetate and a 50-50 chance of guessing the correct answer.

You just went from not knowing the correct answer at all (with a 20% chance of getting the correct answer), to having a 50% chance of getting the correct answer!


Another method that can help you eliminate wrong answers (and possibly get the correct answer) is by estimation. Estimation is the process of calculating what the answer is close to. This strategy is helpful for questions involving calculations. A simple example, similar to the one above, may look like this:

Questions 1-3 relate to the following pH:

(A) 7.0

(B) 1.08

(C) 2.88

(D) 11.1

(E) 8.75

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