Managing your time on the SAT can be a tricky task. Most sections of the test allow for less than a minute per question if you want to finish.
That said, with proper time management and knowledge of the test format, it is entirely possible to successfully complete every section on the SAT. There are, however, some important strategies to keep in mind along the way.
1. Don’t rush through sections.
With the exception of the reading comprehension section, questions on all the multiple choice sections increase in difficulty as they go, and there is no penalty for skipping a question. Therefore, it is not wise to rush through a section. You’ll likely make sloppy mistakes on easier questions you should have gotten right, all to allow yourself a couple of minutes to attempt questions that will be much harder to get right in any amount of time.
2. “Listen” for the error
On the Identifying Sentence Errors section, don’t examine the answer choices one by one. Instead, “listen” for the error and trust your instincts. The improving sentences/paragraphs sections are not quite as simple, as you must not only identify the error but select a correct version as well. You can, however, identify the error using the same method and use it to eliminate any answer choices that clearly don’t address it.
3. On Sentence Completion, pay attention to direct indicators and keywords
SC questions require test-takers to choose a word or pair of words that would logically complete a sentence. Keywords are clue words in the sentence that point you to the right answer; direction indicators tell you what relationship the right answer must have to the keywords. Look out for these words – they’ll allow you to eliminate at least a couple of options right off the bat.
4. Break your good habits in the Math section
On regular math tests, your teacher probably docks points if you don’t show all your work. But remember, this is the SAT: you don’t have to show all your work (though it might help to jot a few things down), you don’t need to copy down formulas and, with the exception of the grid-in section, you don’t even need to write out your final answer. If it seems faster, plug in numbers rather than solving the “right” way.
5. Make your calculator your best friend
Invest in a scientific calculator so factorials and exponents don’t require you to hit the multiplication button 10 times. Get a feel ahead of time for the combination of buttons needed for more complicated functions. Know when to use mental math instead of pencil and paper or a calculator.
6. Never read a Reading Comprehension passage twice
That’s just a waste of time! Before you start reading, glance at the questions to see which part(s) of the passage they focus on (they’ll generally provide you with line numbers) and read that part of the passage only before answering that question. Save the questions about the passage as a whole for last – by the time you get to them, you’ll know the passage well and won’t need to read again. With paired passages, always answer all the questions about the first passage before even looking at the second, and save the “compare and contrast” questions for last. Jotting down little notes about the main ideas of various paragraphs will also help ensure you don’t have to read the passage twice.
7. Write an outline for the SAT essay.
It might seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually a great time-saver. Just three well-focused minutes writing an outline can save you countless additional minutes halfway through a paragraph, puzzling over what to write.
8. Prepare your SAT essay arsenal.
While you will not know your SAT essay topic in advance, the prompts will inevitably touch upon one of a handful of broad themes (heroism, independent thought, facing adversity, and technology and progress are some of the most common). Keep a few examples in the back of your mind about which you know a fair amount and to whom a variety of different topics can apply (90% of essay topics can apply to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi if you get just a little bit creative!).
9. Don’t stress out about the time!
Ironically, thinking too much about the passing time might be the biggest time waster of all. Yes, it’s good to be aware of when your time is running out so you can use your last few minutes wisely – but don’t let it preoccupy your mind. Instead, concentrate on figuring out the most efficient way to attack each problem type and stay focused on what you’re doing.