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When Guess is Best

One of the hallmarks of our homeschool back when our children were in high school was to teach them using the concept of mastery: when they had mastered a subject, they were ready to move on to something else.  How did we know when they’d mastered a subject?  Why, we gave them a multiple choice fill-in-the-bubble test, of course, right?  Wrong!


We were looking for their ability to problem-solve and use higher-order reasoning skills, which are better evaluated with short answer and essay test formats.  In fact, if you look at homeschool high school curriculum, most testing materials use this type of format, instead of multiple-choice, which works better with well-defined or lower order skills.

For parents who are used to teaching to mastery, the multiple-choice method used for college admission tests (SAT and ACT) can seem, well, not quite fair! After all, students can actually get credit for guessing!  Is that even ethical?! As a famous president said recently, “that question is above my pay grade,” so I leave it up to you to decide the ethics of test-taking for your student.  I do know, however, that the directions for the ACT actually tell students to guess: “Answer every question. Your score on the tests will be based only on the number of questions that you answer correctly; there is no penalty for guessing. Thus, you should answer every question within the time allowed for each test, even if you have to guess.”

Other experts agree: the Executive Director of High School Program Development at the Princeton Review advocates guessing: “Experts say it’s best to work through each section in its entirety, skipping questions that prove to be problematic. Return to those questions when you've finished the entire section, but if you run out of time and are still clueless, pick a letter and bubble in any questions you have skipped. ‘No answer should be left blank,’ says Carroll. ‘Even if you run out of time, you should just pick the letter of the day.’”

Unlike the ACT, the SAT does have a penalty for guessing—they mark you down ¼ point for every wrong answer, so strategies for the SAT might be slightly different than for the ACT. Make sure your student is completely familiar with all the details of the test before they take it, so they will be ready to do their best.

Here are some additional articles about guessing on the ACT.
Preparing for the ACT
General Test-Taking Strategies for the ACT. The ACT contains multiple-choice tests in four areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each of these tests contains questions that offer either four or five answer choices from which you are to choose the correct, or best, answer. The following suggestions apply to all four tests:
Answer every question. Your score on the tests will be based only on the number of questions that you answer correctly; there is no penalty for guessing. Thus, you should answer every question within the time allowed for each test, even if you have to guess. Your supervisor will announce when you have five minutes remaining on each test.

On difficult questions, eliminate as many incorrect answers as you can, then make an educated guess among those remaining. Answer every question. Your scores on the multiple-choice tests are based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing.

Test Prep: 6 Tips for ACT Success by US News and World Report
 On page 2,  it says:

5. Don't skip questions. Another key difference between the SAT and ACT is that there is no penalty for getting a question incorrect on the ACT. The SAT's penalty is in place in order to keep students from guessing, but ACT test takers can guess freely if they're stumped or out of time. Experts say it's best to work through each section in its entirety, skipping questions that prove to be problematic. Return to those questions when you've finished the entire section, but if you run out of time and are still clueless, pick a letter and bubble in any questions you have skipped. "No answer should be left blank," says Carroll. "Even if you run out of time, you should just pick the letter of the day."

Sparknotes: Seven Basic Rules for Taking the ACT

7. Always Guess When You Don’t Know the Answer. We will discuss guessing below in “The Meaning of Multiple Choice,” but the basic rule is: always guess! You’re much better off guessing than leaving an answer blank because there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Princeton Review: ACT Strategies: The Process of Elimination and Guessing

"You Must Fill in an Answer for Every Single Question on the ACT.  This week, I’ll share a strategy called “the process of elimination” (POE). I’ll also talk about straight-up guessing on the ACT." Use a Letter of the Day.

ACT Prep Tips from Brentwood Public High School

Guessing strategy - NEVER LEAVE A QUESTION BLANK!!! If a student feels strongly about an answer, choose it and quickly move on. If a student is having difficulty with an answer, he/she should use the process of elimination to get rid of answer choices he/she feels are not correct and guess from the remaining choices. If a student can’t eliminate any of the answer choices, make a random guess and move on.

Ethically, here is what I think.  They tell you to guess.  It's in the instructions.  I suggest that you closely follow the directions on the test.


Follow the directions.



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Comments 1

Guest - Gina on Saturday, 20 July 2013 15:32

Lee, what I do is I evaluate my children if they feel if they mastered a subject. For example, my son felt he was a wiz at Biology, so I assigned him a cumulative project, and if I felt like he succeeded, I gave him credit. Plus, I had him take the state EOC, and he passed, so I gave him credit based on that as well.

Lee, what I do is I evaluate my children if they feel if they mastered a subject. For example, my son felt he was a wiz at Biology, so I assigned him a cumulative project, and if I felt like he succeeded, I gave him credit. Plus, I had him take the state EOC, and he passed, so I gave him credit based on that as well.
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Tuesday, 29 September 2020

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