One of the things I’ve noticed is that people hate to skip questions on the SAT. Even though they know that getting a question wrong will set them back an additional quarter of a point, they’d rather guess and risk lowering their score further than play it safe and move on. Skipping a question on the SAT is like admitting defeat: it means that you’re effectively giving up on the possibility of getting a perfect score, even if you’ve been consistently scoring in the mid 600s.
But guess what: while it does pretty much work that way for Math and Writing, on which even four missed questions can pretty much kill your chances of scoring in the 700s, Critical Reading has a much more generous curve. It is not necessary to answer every single question in order to obtain a high score. In fact, on some tests it’s actually possible to miss up to three questions and still get an 800. In contrast, four missed Writing questions along with an 8 essay will give you a score of about 670.
If you are actually trying to get an 800, I wouldn’t suggest that you skip Critical Reading questions (and if you are a serious contender for an 800, you really shouldn’t need to skip questions). But even if you’re just trying to break 700, you need to be open to the possibility of skipping a question or two if you really just have no idea about the answer.
To give you some cold, hard facts: In order to obtain a 700, it is usually necessary to obtain a raw score of about 57/67. Assuming that you skip 10 (!) questions and get all of the rest correct, that’s a 700 right there. Although I understand that skipping so many questions sounds far too risky to entertain, consider that choosing to skip 5 questions and then going for — and missing — another 5 that you’re not sure about will actually give you a score of 690. That’s a very important 10 points right there.
If you’re just trying to break 600, you have even more latitude. To hit 600, you only need a raw score of 45, or 2/3 of the questions right. Theoretically, if you skipped 22 questions and only answered the ones you were absolutely certain about, you could still pull a 600 (although I wouldn’t really advocate that you skip 22 questions).
A more likely scenario is that you skip 10 questions (which gets you to a raw score of 57), then miss another 8 for a raw score of 47 (8 x .25 = 2, and 49-2 = 47), for a scaled score of 610. If, on the other hand, you had tried to answer all 10 of the questions that you had skipped and gotten all of them wrong (statistically unlikely but possible if you really have no idea about them), that would give you a raw score of 42 and scaled 580.
So the bottom line is that sometimes you have be willing to give up the possibility of perfection in order to achieve something that’s merely very good. If you know that you always miss the last couple of vocab questions, plan to skip them; or, if you know that inference questions always trip you up, forget about them. It might just be enough to push your score to the next level.