SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How Many Questions Can You Skip for a Good SAT Score?

Posted by Dora Seigel | Sep 19, 2015 5:45:00 PM

SAT/ACT Score Target, SAT Strategies

 

Every year students fight to get the SAT score they want. For many students, completing all the questions before running out of time is a serious challenge. If you're one of those who struggles to finish the test in time, skipping can be a real asset. But how many questions can you skip for a good score on the SAT?

In this article, I’ll let you know how many questions you can skip or get wrong for 1200 out of 1600. I qualify 1200 as a good score since it is approximately between the 81st and 85th percentile for all test-takers (NOTE: The score percentile data was from the old SAT; 1200 is approximately equivalent to 1800 on the old SAT).

However, exactly what a good score is for you depends on what college you hope to attend. For guidance on how to determine what SAT score you should shoot for, check out our guide to calculating your target score.

Even if your goal isn't exactly 1200, this guide can help you understand how many questions you can afford to skip to achieve the score you want.

 

How Is the SAT Scored?

To calculate how many questions you can skip for 1200, you need to know how the SAT is scored. Below, I’ll provide a short explanation, but if you’re interested in reading a more in-depth explanation, check out our guide to how to calculate SAT score. 

NOTE: the essay is not factored into your composite SAT score (400-1600 scale), so I will not discuss it further in this article. However, for more information on the new SAT essay, read our other guide.

On the new SAT, there is no penalty for incorrect answers (no minus points), so skipping or answering a question incorrectly results in the same score. You get one point for every right answer since there is no wrong answer penalty, so you should bubble something in for every question.  When I discuss skipping in this article, I really mean guessing randomly because you should not leave any bubble blank. 

For the Math section, you simply get a raw score, which is just the number of questions answered correctly (if you answered 40 correctly, your raw score is 40). 

For the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, you get two raw scores: one for the Reading portion and one for the Writing and Language portion. Again, your raw scores are just the number of questions answered correctly.

Each raw score is then converted into a scaled score -- the exact conversion varies by test date. However, the College Board provides this example chart from their SAT practice test as an estimate:


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Once you convert your Math raw score to scaled score using the conversion chart, you have your final section score. For example, if you got a raw score of 53 in Math, your final section score would be 740.

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing is slightly more complicated. You first need to convert your two raw scores into scaled scores using the chart. For example, if you had a raw score of 44 in reading and 41 in writing, your scaled scores would be 35 and 37, respectively. You then take these scaled scores add them together and multiply by ten to get your section score:

(35 + 37) x 10 = 72 x 10 = 720

Now that we have covered the basic scoring, let’s return to the original question.

 

How Many Questions Could You Skip/Get Wrong and Still Get 1200 if You Got All of the Others Right?

NOTE: As I mentioned earlier, since there is no penalty for wrong answers, skipping or answering a question incorrectly results in the same score. Therefore, you can skip or answer incorrectly the same number of questions to receive 1200.

Also, as I said before, each test date has a unique conversion scale from raw to scaled score, meaning each test date has a different answer, so the answer to this question is not exact.

To find the typical number of questions you can skip for 1200, I analyzed four real SAT practice tests and found the number of questions you could skip to get 600 in each section. I put my findings in this table: 

Section 

Test 1

Test 2

Test 3

Test 4

Math

19-20

22

24

25-26

Reading Test

17-18

16-17

17-18

15-16

Writing

12-13

12

13-14

14

Total

48-51

50-51

54-56

54-56

 

From the above table, the average number of questions you can skip/get wrong to get 1200 is 52. However, it is important to note that the number of questions you can skip/get wrong to get 1200 depends on the section in which you are skipping the questions.

  • For Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, you can skip/answer incorrectly on average 13 questions on the writing portion and 16 questions on the reading portion.
  • For Math, you can skip/answer incorrectly on average 22 questions between the calculator and no-calculator sections.

REMEMBER this is if you got every single other question correct, which is very difficult. I don’t recommend you skip this many questions, as you can’t guarantee you get every other question correctly. I’ll explain more about this strategy below:

 

What Does This Indicate About Skipping/Answering Questions Incorrectly?

If you’re not seeing improvements in your SAT prep and are barely finishing the sections in time, just bubbling in random answers for certain questions may be a better strategy for you. You also can create an exact plan of attack according to your strengths and weaknesses.

For your unique plan, consider what section you are struggling the most in whether it is Math, Reading, or Writing. Try to skip the maximum number allowed in that section. Make sure you always bubble in a random guess for those questions (you’re not penalized for guessing, and if you randomly guess right, you get free points!). Make sure you plan to skip/bubble in the harder questions in that section:

If you struggle in Math, you should know on the Math section that the multiple-choice questions are ordered from easy to hard, and the grid-ins restart with easy questions and then move towards harder questions at the end of the section.

You should try to spend your time trying to answer the easier questions in Math correctly (the beginning questions of the multiple-choice and grid-ins), and consider just bubbling in a random answer for the harder questions (since you’re not penalized for guessing).

Make sure if you use this strategy that you’re answering enough questions to get your score desired score. For example, if you’re aiming for 1200 (600 in Math), I’d recommend answering at least 45 questions and then bubbling in random answers for the other 13 questions. This way you give yourself cushion if you answer five questions wrong, you can still get 600.

As I said, answer the easier questions, and bubble in the harder questions (end of multiple-choice) and consider skipping the end of the grid-ins (since you won’t be able to guess on those since they’re not multiple choice).

On the Reading test, you may want to consider skipping/bubbling in random answers for one entire passage. Make sure if you use this strategy that you’re answering enough questions to get your score desired score. For example, if you’re aiming for 1200 (600 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing), you can afford to skip an entire passage (which has approximately 10 questions) and just bubble in random answers for that passage. If you answered five or six incorrectly in the other passages, you’d still get a 600.

On the Writing test, you may want to consider skipping/bubbling in random answers for one entire passage. If you use this strategy, you need to double check that you’re answering enough questions to get your score desired score. For example, if you’re aiming for 1200 (600 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing), you can afford to skip an entire passage (which has approximately 10-11 questions) and just bubble in random answers for that passage. If you answered three or four incorrectly in the other passages, you’d still get a 600.

 

 

WARNING: You need to incorporate this strategy into your preparation! Do not just plan to skip the day of the exam without practice. In your practice, start by trying to skip/bubbling in randomly the maximum number allowed and see how it affects your score. If the first result is positive, and you see score improvement, simply continue skipping that amount of questions. If at first you get a lower score, try skipping half the number of questions allowed and see how that shifts your score. Keep adjusting until you find the maximum number you can skip to get your desired score.

Focus on getting the questions you do answer right! If your section score is under 500, it’s well worth skipping a substantial chunk of questions.

 

What’s Next?

Trying to get a perfect score? You should check out our SAT study guide.

Taking the test in the next month and need to improve your score in a hurry? Read our cramming guide.

Aiming for the Ivy League? Read our guide to getting in!

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.



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