Why Educated Guessing is an Important Test-Taking Skill (and How You Can Master It)
Discover the value of making an educated guess, especially while test-taking.
By Tiffany Sorensen, Varsity Tutors' Contributor
October 05, 2016
One of the most helpful techniques for test-taking, no matter what the test covers, is educated guessing. While your comprehensive studying should ideally prevent the situation of having to guess, we sometimes just get stuck — which is where this important practice comes in. Without knowing it, you probably rely on educated guessing a great deal. However, there are a few key ways you can expand on this familiar strategy to help boost your grades.
The value of educated guessing
Educated guessing is the practice of using prior experience to help you maximize your chances of choosing the right answer when you’re not 100 percent sure of it. You know more than you think you do. Since educated guessing is based on previous knowledge, it is more likely to lead you to the correct answer than random guessing. With random guessing, your chance of getting a question right is only a matter of sheer luck.
Tip 1: Think logically
Any student can channel this skill for success on tests. Think about past experiences to get the ball rolling — even the most seemingly mundane life events can teach a lesson that can prove to be of use in the academic realm.
For example, you may have observed from cooking at home that heat rises. Imagine an earth science question that asks about the effects of a volcanic eruption. What would you think of an answer choice about hot air falling upon towns beneath the volcano? An answer choice like this is not in keeping with the observable laws of physics, and therefore could probably be discarded.
Let’s look at an example of a question that can be answered with logical thinking:
A bag contains six purple marbles, four yellow marbles, and ten red marbles. Without looking, what is the probability of drawing either a purple or a yellow marble from the bag?
We can immediately discard two answer choices: C and D. Choice C implies that drawing either a purple or a yellow marble is a guaranteed outcome, but this is incorrect because the bag also contains red marbles. Choice D is incorrect because the probability of any event happening cannot be greater than 100%. By using common sense, we eliminated half of the answer choices without doing any calculations.
Tip 2: Avoid over-generalizations
Many rules have exceptions, whether the rule pertains to English spelling or the behavior of atoms. For example, think about the chant “I before e, except after c” from primary school.
On the other hand, think about the Octet Rule in chemistry; it states that atoms tend to combine in order to acquire eight electrons in their valence shells — but this rule does not apply to molecules with an odd number of electrons, and there are other exceptions as well.
As such, you must beware of answer choices containing words like “always,” “never,” and “only.” These choices will often lead you to over-generalizations. Let’s look at an example:
Which of the following is ill-advised when driving in heavy rain?
A. Turn on the windshield wipers.
B. Firmly grip the steering wheel.
C. Turn on the low beam headlights.
D. Always drive at the posted speed limit.
Choice D is ill-advised when driving in the heavy rain. While most of the time one should drive at the speed limit, drivers are encouraged to reduce their speeds considerably when driving in dangerous weather.
Test-taking can be stressful for most students. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to be overcome with anxiety and doubt yourself. Give yourself some credit, tap into your knowledge, use common sense, and steer clear of overly general statements.
Tiffany Sorensen is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
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