Keyword Exclusive - The POE of the SAT
Supplement to “College Testing Strategies”
Allen Feibelman, SAT test prep instructor with Northern Kentucky University Community Connections, has a test-taking secret weapon up his sleeve: POE, Process of Elimination.
“Besides skills reviews geared to the particular test, this is the main method I teach,” says Feibelman. “The problem that POE is designed to avoid is the tendency of many test takers to get flustered when they can’t find the one, correct answer.”
When test takers are unable to figure out the correct answer, rather than guessing, they should try to eliminate as many answer possibilities as they can.
“This will increase your odds from one out of five on the multiple choice questions to one out of four or one out of three or better, depending upon how many incorrect answer choices you can eliminate. Consistently doing POE will increase your odds when you do guess, so you will pick up additional correct answers. Keep track as you eliminate answer choices by marking through their corresponding letter. If you’re not sure about an answer choice, keep it. Guess among the answer choices that remain and move on.”
In part one of the SAT, the essay prompt, Feibelman suggests treating the section like a creative writing exercise.
“You can’t go research it, but you want to make sure to argue a position and not just offer an unsupported position.”
Where does the authoritative evidence come from? Like any creative writing assignment, present a reasoned argument, only this time, students should mine their own lives for the material: personal experiences and interests, family experiences, favorite classes, sports, hobbies.
“You may even use the ‘I’ voice in your essay,” says Feibelman. “An essay full of personality and which has a distinctive, well-supported point of view will win points.
“Try to write four or five well-developed paragraphs. Length, as long as the essay is well-written, wins points. The five-paragraph model is good, with one difference: an introduction, three body paragraphs—each of which develops one supporting piece of evidence for your argument—and a conclusion that does not merely summarize is a good structure.
“Unlike the conventional conclusion in a five-paragraph essay, the conclusion in an SAT essay should not merely reiterate the main points but should introduce a novel point of view, perhaps a personal reflection or forward-looking statement.”
On the critical reading passages, Feibelman suggests reading for the main idea and for the “layout” of the passage.
“Don’t read to retain all the information; instead, plan on going back after each question to skim the passage for the information you need. Somewhere between 80 and 96 percent of the material in each passage is unnecessary to answer the questions, so don’t spend time memorizing more than you need. The question will tell you what to look for, and if you’ve skimmed the passage for a sense of its logic and layout, you’ll know where to go to find the information you need.”
On the sentence completion problems, put Feibelman’s POE into play: “Try to come up with your own word or phrase for the blank or blanks before you look at the answer choices. Looking at the answer choices immediately can be distracting, but if you can find a clue in the sentence for what the blank should be, then you can quickly eliminate answer choices that don’t match your own word or phrase.”
To guess or not to guess
In taking the SAT, that is the question—and a controversial one at that, according to Feibelman.
“The confusion seems to stem around an erroneous conflation on the SAT’s part between two terms: ‘incorrect answer score,’ which the SAT does have, and ‘guessing penalty.’ As the SAT tells students, incorrect answers for multiple-choice problems are scored -1/4 points. The SAT is in error, however, to furthermore warn students of a guessing penalty. A guessing penalty means that if you randomly guess, you will lose points or earn a score, on average, of less than 0.”
He further explains: “On the SAT, random guessing on multiple-choice problems will result, on average, in one correct (+1) and 4 incorrect [4x(-1/4)=-1] answers for each 5 problems answered so there is no penalty [1 + (-1) = 0] for guessing. At -1/4 per incorrect answer, the average one-in-five correct answer exactly cancels out the average 4 incorrect answers.
“A guessing penalty on a multiple choice test with 5 possible answers would require a score per wrong answer whose value is to the left on a number line of -1/4. If the score for an incorrect answer was -1/3, for example, then for every 5 problems guessed, on average you’d get one right (+1) and 4 wrong [4x(-1/3)=-4/3]. The total score on those five problems would be [1+(-4/3)=-1/3. The average score for guessing is less than 0, so there is a guessing penalty.”
This is where Feibelman’s POE comes in handy.
“Since there is no guessing penalty on the SAT, if a student can eliminate even one answer choice, she should guess,” he says. “Some students already know to eliminate answer choices and guess among the rest, but a lot of students could be clearer on that with attendant benefits to their score.
“If a student can’t figure out the right answer, that’s okay. She should see what answer choices are wrong, cross them out, then guess among the remaining answer choices. She should plan on doing a lot of guessing on the SAT. Guessing will work for her—as long as she has looked over the answer choices to see which ones she can eliminate first.”
To read the Kentucky Living September 2006 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here: College Testing Strategies