One of the worst feelings in many student’s young test taking lives is furiously working away at some standardized test, and really feeling that they are NAILING IT, only to look up at the clock and realize they have five minutes to complete the next fifteen problems. Time management can be extremely tricky on the SAT, but there are a number of things that can be done before the test to insure that time is used effectively.
1. Be Prepared
This may seem like a gimme, but it is amazing how many students put almost no time into preparation for the SAT and then are surprised when they find it difficult to finish on time. The SAT is a timed test, and, therefore, should be prepared for under timed circumstances. If a student has not practiced approaching problems in a time setting, they will not have the wherewithal to know that they have spent three minutes on a problem in a section where the average question should take you one minute.
Students must learn what doing twenty questions in twenty five minutes feels like and must learn what it feels like to be running out of time and still continue at the pace necessary to obtain correct answers (it is preferable to not learn this while taking the test).
2. Familiarize Yourself with Common Problem Types
Preparation also helps to increase the speed at which each problem can be approached because it increases familiarity with common problem types. There are certain kinds of problems that nearly always appear on the SAT. We have fancy names for them like “counting problems” or “hidden triangle problems”, but regardless of what they are called the important thing is that they are frequently repeated on the SAT year after year and are easily recognizable. The biggest time suck on the SAT is the time taken figuring out how to approach a problem.
If you are familiar with a type of question, there is a built in road map for how to attack it and no time is taken developing a strategy for solving the problem. There may still be problems that seem unfamiliar, but having familiarity with common problem types allows you to dedicate a little extra time to these problems.
3. Don’t Read Directions
This goes hand and hand with being prepared and does not warrant a lot of discussion. If you have practiced taking the SAT, you know what the directions say and need not waste time reading them. This is especially true on the essay section of the SAT. The only important thing in those directions is the question listed after the word ‘Assignment’. Everything else is simply stating that the student should write an essay on the topic listed and can be ignored.
4. Answer Questions as You Read
Answering questions as you read dramatically increases the speed at which you can attack the reading section by making it less necessary to go back and read the passage multiple times. Because the questions on the SAT are fairly literally asking you to restate ideas from the passage (often in new or more general terms), answering as you go both helps to keep the ideas from the passage fresh in your mind and prevents you from being distracted by parts of the passage that are not asked about in the question.
Remember, the golden rule of the reading passages: “Is it stated in the passage?” The very few correct answers that are not explicitly stated in the passage will at least be more probable than the other wrong answers, so do not be shy when eliminating incorrect answer choices.
5. Do Not Go Back and Check Work
Going back and checking work after the section is completed is an inefficient way to check a section for accuracy. Essentially, checking work in this way forces you to go through every problem twice, which isn’t a great way of doing things. When you do a math calculation that can be checked on a calculator, check as you are doing the problem. Before you move on to the next question ask yourself, “What is the question asking? Have I found the correct unknown?” Even in the reading or writing sections it can be helpful to have a little checklist to go through for difficult questions. “Have I accounted for ‘NOT’ or ‘EXCEPT’ in a reading problem? Have I read the writing question without prepositional phrases? Have I checked the pronouns for agreement? Have I checked the prepositions for idiomatic errors?”
Do all of this as you go, then, if you have finished the section completely, you can be confident with your answers and only spend extra time on problems where you weren’t sure you used the right methodology.
6. Bubble in the Answers Page
This is another simple technique that can add a few precious minutes of work time. Bubbling each answer choice as you answer a question requires constantly moving back and forth between the answer sheet and the work book. If you simply answer a page of questions then bubble in the results all together, you can save some time and use it for the actual work of the test.
These are not the only strategies to increase efficiency on the SAT, but they are a few useful ones. The real trick to getting through the SAT is to be very familiar with the format and question types so that all the time is spent answering the questions, not attempting to figure out how to answer the questions. Break a pencil!
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.