I have been out of my formal education, and certainly out of high school for many years now but I still have stress dreams where the time is slowly running out on a standardized test. I’m stuck on a hard problem and am waffling between two answers: “What does it mean if these two points are co-linear!” I scream and wake up in a cold sweat. If this describes your own dark dreams, you are not alone. Negotiating timing on a test is tough, but there are a few great tricks that will help you to zoom through some of the tougher sections and complete the SAT without feeling that stress.
1. Be Prepared! (Sung like Scar from The Lion King). Obvious advice is not always unnecessary advice. If you have not taken the SAT before, it will be extremely overwhelming to go through and try to read all the directions and acquaint yourself with different types of questions. Get a book (SAT 2400 In Just 7 Steps is a great one). Better yet, get a tutor or take a class. At the very least, take a practice test. The more familiar you are with the format and the types of questions, the quicker you can move on the test.
2. Use Test-Taking Strategies Immediately. These test taking strategies, like plugging in numbers, are very useful but need to be employed immediately. When the question says “some number greater than 2” or “for all even integers”, plug in a number greater than 2 or an even integer! Don’t sit around trying to dissect the question: start trying things! If the question doesn’t state numbers but there are numbers in the answer choices, start testing to see what answer is possible quickly! The strategies are great but they are not a last resort: they are the first option.
3. Bubble Answers Page By Page. This technique just eliminates some of the time taken to move back and forth between the test booklet and the answer sheet. Instead of doing this work after every question, answer all the questions on a page in the test booklet and then bubble in all the answers on the answer sheet. This will also help to encourage checking in between the test book and the answer sheet so that you do not skip a question and compromise your whole answer sheet.
4. Answer Line Specific Reading Questions As You Read The Passage. This is another technique that can save minutes on the reading section of the SAT. Rather than reading a passage multiple times (once to familiarize yourself with the content and once to answer the questions), answer the line specific questions as you read. Read the line specific question, read up to lines referenced, and find the answer. The answer is IN the passage, so this will help you to look for the answer in the actual content being referenced by the question.
5. Skip Questions You Don’t Understand Immediately. There will be time to come back and attempt these problems, but if you don’t know how to start, skip the problem quickly. The last thing you want is to sit there and ponder over a question when there are three after that you could easily attack. It’s not giving up to skip a problem and come back to it. When you know you have all the problems that you know how to attempt down, go back to these problems and do the first step to see if this step leads to another.
6. Know The Common Writing Errors. If you are aware of the most common errors that pop up on the writing section, it is much easier to spot them. In each answer choice you can simply run through a mental checklist of what kinds of errors are possible then check to see if these errors are present. This is especially helpful with the harder questions when uncommon phrasing is used in an attempt to confuse the test taker. Once an error is identified, it is also much quicker to go through answer choices as a test taker must merely find the answer choice that fixes the error and does not create a new problem.
7. Practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The same way you learn time management on the SAT: PRACTICE! This goes hand in hand with “Be Prepared”, but it deserves its own section because the only way to get good at time management is to feel how long twenty five minutes is and how it feels to take too long on a problem. Time yourself taking some practice sections, you will notice yourself better able to deal with the stress of the timed test as well as an increased ability to manage your time.
With these tools in hand the dreaded SAT timing need not be the stuff of nightmares. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to develop your test taking techniques and practice them in timed contexts. So don’t get anxious, get prepared!
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.