SAT Key Strategies: The 4 Ps

To perform their best, students must know the best strategies for tackling each question.

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Posted By

Dodie Carmichael

Published On

July 14, 2021

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In order for students to perform well on the SAT, they need to not only learn the material and practice but also use the best strategies for tackling each question. There are four key strategies called the 4 Ps students can use to help them choose answers confidently and improve their score.

SAT Key Strategies: 4 Ps

  • Plugging in Options
  • Pencil on Paper
  • Process of Elimination
  • Pick and Skip

Plugging in Options

When given four possible answer choices, students plug in the answer choices to see which one might work. This is especially helpful on the math and reading portion of the SAT. 


  • Math:  a good rule of thumb is to start with (B) or (C), because answer choices are listed in increasing or decreasing order. This strategy will allow students to determine whether to choose answer choices above or below (B) or (C) if neither one applies. 
  • Reading:  for words in context, a student can sub the answer choices back into the original sentence to choose the correct answer.

Pencil on Paper

Students do not want to passively read SAT test information, but rather engage and interact with the questions and passages. They can use their pencil to mark up or add information to their test booklet. 

  • Reading:  students can be an active reader by using their pencil to mark up passages as they read by underlining important information and adding their own notes to highlight key information. The benefit to doing this is that it helps students to stay focused, understand what they read, make it easy to refer back to passages and find key information.
  • Writing:  students will be asked about the main point, examples, or errors in the passage. If portions of the passage are already underlined, students may need to replace the underlined portion if it contains an error, needs to be improved, or needs to be left alone. It will be important to circle or underline parts of a sentence that seem related to an error.
  • Math:  an active reading technique is used by underlining what the question is asking and preventing a student from being distracted by irrelevant information. A student may also draw a diagram for questions where no diagram is provided, or where a diagram is not to scale.

Process of Elimination

This strategy is a great way to narrow down possible answer choices. Students should not select an answer on their first read-through, yet assess each answer choice. If an option is incorrect, mark it with an X in the test booklet and leave any choices open for consideration. Students will then select the best answer. 

  • Reading:  answer choices may be eliminated that contradict information given in the passage. Any answer choice that is not supported in the passage is therefore crossed out for consideration.
  • Writing:  a student may eliminate answer choices that do not correct the error in the underlined section of the passage. Then they should eliminate answer choices that correct the error, yet introduce new errors.

Pick and Skip

Students need to be clever in their approach to each section of the SAT. It is to their benefit to work on questions that are easier, and leave the more challenging or time-consuming questions for later since each question is worth one point. Only after students have practice with timed practice tests, and know their speed for each section can they apply this strategy. This strategy should be used with caution because errors may be made when bubbling in answers.

  • Reading and Writing:  students can first read the passages on topics they are most familiar with or interested in, and then go back to the other passages that were skipped. 
  • Students may also attempt questions for each passage out of order.
  • If any questions are related to the passage as a whole, it is important students read the entire passage first before answering these types of questions.
  • Math:  questions may be answered out of order by skipping more challenging or time-consuming equations or problems.
  • Students need to come up with a strategy for marking the questions they skipped, so they can come back to them later.
  • When all else fails, students may guess on any question they did not have time to complete. Guessing is always better than leaving an answer blank.

By simply having time to practice applying important strategies and going in with a positive outlook, students can be confident in their abilities and do well on the SAT. Most students take the SAT in their junior and senior year of high school, but they can start earlier. Preparing for the PSAT can go a long way in helping students be more prepared for the SAT.

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