Welcome back to another round of Tricks of the Trade, where we share insider tips and tricks to mastering the SAT and ACT! Today we’ll be covering a topic that you’ve probably never even really thought about: your Scantron.

Your answer sheet is arguably the most important piece of paper on your desk on test day. It represents the result of all your hard work during those hours of slaving away on the morning of a standardized test. While most strategies you’ll need apply to the tests themselves, it’s still very important to approach your answer sheet with a clear game plan.

Here are a few pointers to help you fill out your Scantron most effectively:

1. The Basics

Remember that a machine will be scoring your Scantron, not a human being. That machine needs you to fill in the answer bubbles fully and darkly. Be sure to use a #2 pencil when bubbling in your answers, as pencils with thinner lead (e.g., mechanical pencils) are less likely to be read accurately by the Scantron machine.

2. The Pacing

As a test prep instructor, I have proctored many practice tests and am all too familiar with the gasp of a student who has reached the end of the test to discover that he or she has accidentally skipped a question somewhere — but where??? To avoid this stressful situation, try not to save all your bubbling for the very end of the test. When inputting dozens of answers at once, it’s easy to miss a question and get off track, which can have disastrous consequences if it happens near the end of the time limit. 

A good practice for Scantron filling is to break it into logical pieces. Just finished a reading passage in your test booklet? Bubble in those answers! Getting ready to turn the page to work on more math problems? Transfer those answers over first! While it isn’t necessary to bounce back and forth between the test booklet and answer sheet on every single question, allowing yourself the time to carefully transfer small sets of answers can help you to finish your test section with confidence and efficiency (rather than a frantic bubbling spree in the last minute of the test). 

3. Grid-Ins (SAT Math)

On both SAT Math tests (Calculator and No Calculator), students are often confused about how to enter in their answers on the scantron. Familiarize yourself with the official instructions above, and remember that there can be multiple “correct” answers to many grid-in questions. For example, the answer 2/3 from the instructions above can also be expressed as 4/6 or 6/9 (a fraction doesn’t need to be fully reduced if it will fit in the grid). The same answer can also be expressed as a decimal: .666 is “truncated” (cut off), while .667 is rounded up. Ultimately, any of these answers would earn you the point on test day.

Now that we’ve covered the Scantron basics, here are a few bonus Scantron-related test day tips!

  • Your Scantron can also be used as a straight edge for math or science problems (e.g. drawing lines of best fit on a scatter plot). Just make sure not to accidentally write on your answer sheet!
  • We’ve already covered the strategy of guessing