Time is one of the ways the College Board tries to get inside students’ heads. This varies from student to student. Some breeze through only to find the clock running out on their Math section with four problems left. Whatever the case is, timing can be an incredible source of anxiety for students and have adverse effects on one’s score if not managed properly.
For those who struggle with the issue of time, there are two very common (negative!) approaches to time on the SAT.
1. You try to rush through in an effort to answer every single question. This leads to a ton of careless errors, and very lackluster results.
2. You feel paralyzed by time and concentrate on that instead of methodically working through the sections. This prevents students from finishing as many questions as they would normally, as they stay fixated on the lack of time.
Both of these approaches are very deleterious (SAT vocab word!) to your score. Don’t adopt this mindset! Here is the good news… time is a completely overblown problem! While not every student will be able to finish the test, the anxiety and fear that comes with not finishing hurts your mental makeup. This is what really drags down scores, not the issue of time.
Here is why: the SAT asks questions in order of difficulty for almost every section. The order restarts the grid in math section and in the large writing section, but on every other writing and math section, questions 1-5 are significantly easier than the final five problems. With reading, the vocabulary questions go in order and the rest of reading comprehension problems are jumbled together.
What this means is that students have a much better chance of answering the earlier questions correctly than the later ones.
As long as you are able to finish all the easy and medium ones, you are not at that much of a disadvantage. Of course it would be optimal to finish every single question, but the chances of getting the last couple right are not that high for the grand majority of students.
It’s much better to acknowledge that you may not finish those challenging problems later on each section and to focus on not rushing through the easy ones at the beginning. This is the surest way to leave points on the table. In addition, don’t forget, if you go through the hard questions and aren’t able to solve them but still put in an answer – there is a guessing penalty.
With reading comprehension and the essay, timing comes with practice. When students practice the essay and go through the proper preparation steps, they rarely have issues with time. The same can be said of really honing one’s reading comprehension skills.
Timing is one of the biggest issues students face on the SAT. By taking the test on your own terms, and doing the most amount of problems you are able to solve, you will be successful! Keep in mind, your speed on the tests picks up dramatically if you take practice tests prior to the real thing (try one for FREE by taking the Veritas Prep SAT Diagnostic Test).
Getting used to the cadence and pace of the test is extremely helpful in getting you your best score possible, without fretting about the issue of time. Happy Studying!
Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.