Does the ACT or SAT penalize you additional points for getting an answer wrong?

Matt Larriva
Feb 04, 2020
Home » Blog » Does the ACT or SAT penalize you additional points for getting an answer wrong?

Is there a benefit for guessing on questions you don’t know on either test?

Here is everything you need to know about guessing on the SAT or the ACT. We’ve included a detailed analysis which tests two hypotheses on “how to guess” appropriately.

Most answers to the question, as listed here, are correct: no guessing penalty on either the SAT or ACT.

First, know that the “Letter of the Day” method, is incorrect.

Guess any letter for any question. It doesn’t matter if you guess A,B,A,B or A,A,A,A or any variation. Your expected number of correct answers are equal—actually, you’ll actually do sliiightly better by guessing randomly on every question.

Easy empirical proof:

act and sat penalty for guessing wrong answer
act and sat penalties for wrong answer graph

They’re the same.

But if you want to get technical. The SAT and ACT are not bound to have an equal distribution of each answer. That is, if there are 20 questions, they do not have to have 5, ‘A’s; 5, ‘B’s; etc. They could easily have a correct answer distribution that was 7, ‘A’s; 3, ‘B’s; etc.

If you used the ‘Letter of the Day’ method and chose incorrectly, then you could easily find yourself limiting the number of correct answers you chose.

It is better to guess randomly at each question you don’t know.

Will you get accepted?

Find out how likely you are to get accepted based on your GPA, test scores, and even extracurricular activities. Then, get custom recommendations for how to improve your odds – completely for free on CollegeVine.

Will you get accepted?

Find out how likely you are to get accepted based on your GPA, test scores, and even extracurricular activities. Then, get custom recommendations for how to improve your odds – completely for free on CollegeVine.