Secret Key #2

Guessing is not guesswork.


The student has a small idea about this question- he is pretty sure that the amine will be deprotonated, but he wouldn’t bet $5 on it.

He knows that the amine is either protonated or deprotoned, so he is willing to bet $5 on choice A not being correct. Now he is down to B and C. At this point, he guesses B, since B is the first choice remaining.

The student is correct by choosing B, since the amine will be protonated. He only eliminated those choices he was willing to bet money on, AND he did not let his stale memories (often things not known definitely will get mixed up in the exact opposite arrangement in one’s head) about protonation and deprotonation influence his guess. He blindly chose the first remaining choice, and was rewarded with the fruits of a random guess.

This section is not meant to scare you away from making educated guesses or eliminating choices- you just need to define when a choice is worth eliminating. The $5 test, along with a pre-defined random guessing strategy, is the best way to make sure you reap all of the benefits of guessing.

Specific Guessing Techniques


Scientific sounding answers are better than slang ones. In the answer choices below, choice B is much less scientific and is incorrect, while choice A is a scientific analytical choice and is correct.


A.) To compare the outcomes of the two different kinds of treatment.

B.) Because some subjects insisted on getting one or the other of the treatments.

Extreme Statements

Avoid wild answers that throw out highly controversial ideas that are proclaimed as established fact.  Choice A is a radical idea and is incorrect.  Choice B is a calm rational statement.  Notice that Choice B does not make a definitive, uncompromising stance, using a hedge word “if” to provide wiggle room.


A.) Bypass surgery should be discontinued completely.

B.) Medication should be used instead of surgery for patients who have not had a heart attack if they suffer from mild chest pain and mild coronary artery blockage.

Similar Answer Choices

When you have two answer choices that are direct opposites, one of them is usually the correct answer.


A.) described the author’s reasoning about the influence of his childhood on his adult life.

B.) described the author’s reasoning about the influence of his parents on his adult life.

These two answer choices are very similar and fall into the same family of answer choices.  A family of answer choices is when two or three answer choices are very similar. Often two will be opposites and one may show an equality.


A.) Plan I or Plan II can be conducted at equal cost

B.) Plan I would be less expensive than Plan II

C.) Plan II would be less expensive than Plan I

D.) Neither Plan I nor Plan II would be effective

Note how the first three choices are all related.  They all ask about a cost comparison.  Beware of immediately recognizing choices B and C as opposites and choosing one of those two.  Choice A is in the same family of questions and should be considered as well.  However, choice D is not in the same family of questions.  It has nothing to do with cost and can be discounted in most cases.


When asked for a conclusion that may be drawn, look for critical “hedge” phrases, such as likely, may, can, will often, sometimes, etc, often, almost, mostly, usually, generally, rarely, sometimes.  Question writers insert these hedge phrases to cover every possibility.  Often an answer will be wrong simply because it leaves no room for exception. Avoid answer choices that have definitive words like “exactly,” and “always”.

Summary of Guessing Techniques

1.  Eliminate as many choices as you can by using the $5 test. Use the common guessing strategies to help in the elimination process, but only eliminate choices that pass the $5 test.

2.  Among the remaining choices, only pick your “best guess” if it passes the $5 test.

3.  Otherwise, guess randomly by picking the first remaining choice.

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