Speed Versus Accuracy

Find the balance between speed and accuracy when taking the SAT.

Unfortunately, You'll Probably Have to Leave Some Questions Blank
Let me put that differently. Until you're absolutely sure that you've got a shot at a 750 to 800 on the reading, writing, or math test—only about 1 student in 20 does—you'd better leave some questions blank on that part of the SAT.

Here's the basic problem everyone has to deal with on the SAT: limited time. The SAT has enough questions in a short enough period of time that most students can finish only by rushing. And rushing leads to mistakes.

Yes, blanks cost you points—but so do errors.

Your score on the SAT is determined by how quickly and accurately you can read and solve problems. The dilemma you face is that the higher your speed, the lower your accuracy. The more problems you attempt in the time limit, the more mistakes you're likely to make. If on the other hand you move more slowly to improve your accuracy, you won't be able to answer as many questions. Moving faster means fewer blanks but more errors; moving slower means fewer errors but more blanks. That's the tradeoff everyone faces on the SAT.

The speed versus accuracy tradeoff on the SAT is just like the tradeoff in typing. Up to a certain speed, you can type making few, if any, errors. But then, if you go just a bit faster, you begin to make a few mistakes. And a bit faster than that, you begin to make a lot of mistakes.

So, if you need to leave some blanks, which questions should you sacrifice? Since every question is worth the same amount, the questions to leave blank are the ones that take the most amount of time to answer.

This rule applies to the reading, writing, and math tests. When we get to each test later, we'll see how to apply this principle on the different question types.

Until you're scoring consistently above 700, don't attempt every question but answer every question you attempt. How many questions you should leave blank will depend on how well you manage the speed versus accuracy tradeoff and what your SAT goal is.

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