Many students say their biggest problem on the SAT is running out of time. In this post, we'll cover some basic time-saving SAT strategies.
Strategies for All Sections
Get familiar with the test ahead of time.
Know the instructions and formulas provided so you don't have to read them on test day. They won't be different from what's in the current blue book (The Official SAT Study Guide). This also provides the psychological advantage of comfort and visual familiarity on test day.
There is a limited number of question types on the SAT, and if you do even a few practice tests, you'll start to get used to them. PrepScholar uses extensive practice quizzes and real SAT practice tests to acquaint you thoroughly with the question types and the skills they test. But even if you don't prep with us, make sure you practice--a lot.
Don't second guess yourself.
Indecision is the biggest time waster for many students on the SAT. After you eliminate a few wrong answers, which is much easier than picking the right one, check the question to make sure you know what you're looking for and pick from what's left. Don't come back to the question until you've answered all the others.
Strategies for the Reading Section
Don't read the passages.
That is, don't read them in full before you look at the questions. They all fall into one of five basic categories and have many things in common, so there aren't a ton of surprises. We at PrepScholar recommend a skim of the passage rather than a full reading. Most of the questions require you to reread sections of the passage anyway, so you might as well get only the specific details you need rather than try to remember every aspect of the passage.
Strategies for the Writing Section
Don't go for too much in the essay.
There are examples in the blue book (the Official SAT Study Guide) of essays that got perfect scores using only one example. Many students think that the essay needs to be crammed with historical or literary information, but a personal experience—if it suits the prompt and your thesis—is no less valuable. Focus on the structure and flow of the essay, as well as using specific details, and don't worry about the quantity of academic information it contains.
Don't get sucked into analyzing weird sentences.
The SAT loves to use awkward or outdated phrasing to make Writing questions more difficult. Often, students get totally bewildered and freak out. But these bizarre sentences are still trying to test the same Writing concepts as all the other questions, so you just have to strip away the nonsense and look for that number agreement or verb tense problem.
Strategies for the Math Section
Skip the ones that you don't immediately understand.
We've all had the experience of staring at a question for a full minute and thinking, "How the heck am I supposed to figure this out?" On the SAT, these questions must be saved until the end of each section. Every question on the test is worth the same amount, so the #1 priority is to get all the easy questions first. After that, you can start worrying about the harder ones. Even if the question isn't technically hard, but you're having trouble wrapping your mind around it, skip it and come back.
If it seems too hard, look for an easier way.
Many of the Math questions on the SAT are designed to waste your time if you're not clued in to the specific set of shortcuts they use. Pythagorean triples, for example, can tell you the measure of the hypotenuse of a right triangle (when you know the base and height) without doing any calculations at all. You can figure it out using the Pythagorean theorem, but that's wasted time.
Learn the shortcuts.
Pythagorean triples are only one kind of shortcut on the math section; there are many others, which you can learn from us (or other sources, of course). If you don't bother to do this, you'll almost definitely run out of time.
The Bottom Line
There are lots of ways to buy yourself more time on the SAT and thus improve your score, but the common denominator among them is time. You'll have to spend some time in order to do it right. If you're looking for a structured, online learning program that can help you manage the time you spend prepping for the SAT, check us out. If you're not, I hope these tips helped you think about your timing and how to improve it.
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Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.