The short answer is “no,” although most people think it is better to guess. Of course, if you just don’t have the first clue as to what the answer may possibly be, you may feel like you have no choice but to take a stab in the dark. However, not answering at all is an overlooked option – and for some tests, it may be your best one. Ultimately, guessing should always and only be used as an absolutely last resort.
Wrong Answers vs. No Answers
Some standardized tests (like the SAT, PSAT, SSAT and portions of AP tests) will penalize you more for answering wrong than for not answering at all. Other standardized tests (ACT, ISEE and LSAT) don’t penalize you for being wrong, which means the best method is to answer every question, guessing or not.
Why am I being punished for guessing???
Unfortunately for students everywhere, the wrong answer penalty is just the nature of the beast. It comes into play for multiple choice questions, which are, by nature, easier than other questions (the answer’s in front of you whether you know what to choose or not). Testing companies penalize wrong answers to counteract the possibility of scoring highly by pure chance.
Good Guesses vs. Bad Guesses
The penalty for one wrong answer isn’t as great as the reward for one right answer. If one right answer on the SAT equals one point, for example, one wrong answer only subtracts a fraction of one point. If you guess enough, though, and enough of those guesses are wrong, it’s going to drag down your final score.
The Best Guessing Strategy
A lot of people argue that guessing is always, always, always the best option. It certainly looks like guessing would pay off from a mathematical standpoint. That’s assuming that enough of the guesses are correct, though. Since you’re blindly guessing at a question that you clearly don’t know the answer to, the odds of guessing wrong are in your favor.
The solution? Prepare well enough for the test so that if you have to guess, at least it’s an educated one. By process of elimination, you may be able to narrow your options down far enough that you have a higher likelihood of getting a guess correct. Just can’t make heads or tails out of what the question is asking you? It may work in your favor to leave one or two questions completely blank. After all, zero points deducted is better than a fraction of a point here and there.