Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Speed on the SAT

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This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Veritas Prep.

Time is of the essence on the SAT. Each section is set so that you have barely enough time to answer all the questions. For one of the math sections, you will have 25 minutes to answer 20 math questions. For a critical reading section, you have 25 minutes to answer 24 questions. As a result, you have an average of just over a minute to answer each question. This is extremely tight timing.

Many students do not manage their time well on the SAT and, as a result, end up having to rush, guess, or leave questions blank that they could have otherwise answered correctly. Because every second counts on the SAT, if you can consistently shave off five seconds to 10 seconds on a few questions, you’ll find yourself with an extra three or four  minutes per section that you can use to complete sections you previously couldn’t finish or focus on tough questions that take longer to solve.

Here are some very simple ways to improve your speed and pacing on the SAT.

Wait to bubble in an entire page worth of answers. Instead of flipping back and forth between the test booklet and answer sheet, bubbling in each answer choice one-by-one, circle your final answers on your test booklet and wait until you’ve finished an entire page worth of answers before going to the answer sheet and bubbling in. You’ll be saving a few seconds each time that you have to go back and forth between the booklet and answer sheet. With over more than 150 questions on the SAT, that can add up to several minutes saved. On top of that, the act of bubbling in an answer choice seems to “reset” you mentally and could mess with your rhythm if you’re on a roll.

Don’t worry about neatness when bubbling answers. It should take you about one second to fill in a bubble with your pencil—any longer than that and you’re needlessly wasting time. The Scantron machines that grade the tests don’t need perfect bubbles to score your test correctly, so don’t worry about making it neat.

Skip difficult/confusing questions immediately.
If you come across a question that you don’t know how to approach or solve right away, or if it confuses you and you feel you need to spend a lot of time on it to figure it out, skip it and move to the next question. Come back to the question after you’ve finished the entire section and have time. Dwelling on a confusing question wastes time you could use to solve other questions.

Don’t read the directions.
You should already know the directions for every section and every problem type from taking practice tests and studying for the SAT. Unless the SAT makes a major change to its test (which you would know far in advance), there’s no reason to re-read directions for any section on the SAT. That wastes valuable problem-solving time.

Steal time from earlier questions.
The math and writing sections tend to increase in difficulty from the start of the section to the end of the section. Easy questions that shouldn’t take very much time to solve appear at the start of the section, and really tough questions that will take longer to solve will appear at the end. You will have more time to dedicate to the later questions. Your strategy should be to spend less than 30 to 45 seconds on the first six or seven questions, from 45 to 75 seconds on the middle six or seven questions, and from about 90 seconds to two minutes on the toughest questions. This way, you’re spending an appropriate amount of time on each question according to its difficulty level.

As you can see, these tips are very quick to implement and require only a little adjustment to the way you take the SAT. No major changes are needed—no speed reading classes. Time yourself when you next practice the SAT using these methods and notice how much more time you have. Saving a few minutes on each section might allow you to answer a additional one or two questions correctly on each section. Overall, that could lead to 100 to 150 further points on your SAT score.

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