Always Guess C?

“Always Guess C!”  I learned the hard way the reality of offering such advice. Some years ago, I was tutoring a young lady for the ACT.  I advised her to guess on quite a few questions because she had difficulty with time management.  On her math practice test, she guessed “C” on the last 20 questions.  Much to my surprise, she only got one of them correct!

After discovering this, I looked at every publicly available ACT test to see if there was a pattern on the last few questions of the Math test.  On every single one, I found that “C” or “H” (the middle choice of the 5 since the ACT alternates between ABCDE and FGHJK on the Math Questions) was used less frequently than the other choices.

I thought about it, and it made sense to me why this would be true.  1.  Most students don’t finish the ACT Math section.  2.  Most students guess “C” when they run out of time.

So, I figured that ACT realized that people guessing “C” quite a bit at the end must be blindly guessing rather than actually knowing the material.  I guessed that they were trying to punish these guessers by turning conventional wisdom on its head and penalizing those who followed the “Guess C!” rule of thumb.

I thought I was on to something – I advised my students prior to the next ACT to not guess C on the last 10-20 math questions.  I was really excited that I had discovered a hidden strategy that I hadn’t found stated elsewhere.

Then, I took the ACT in December and ordered the question/answer service so I could review my answers.  And guess what:  THEY USED “C” A LOT ON THE LAST FEW QUESTIONS OF THE MATH!  I had given my students terrible advice for that test date.  Fortunately, the rest of my advice was much more sound.

Lesson learned – one letter is as good as any other on major tests like the ACT or SAT.  If it were as easy as picking a particular letter, why on earth would colleges put any stock in these tests?