Pacing for Math on the SAT

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This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Jake Davidson at Veritas Prep.

Pacing on the SAT is one of the hardest strategic concepts for a lot of students to grasp. Whether they are used to longer periods of time to complete problems or a lower number of questions to complete, a lot of unnecessary stress is created from students worrying whether they will finish on time. These concerns are prevalent on every component of the test, with the bulk of issues coming on the math and reading sections. A multitude of strategies can help ensure that students complete every section with time left over. Here are a couple that are extremely helpful on the math portion of the test.

Part of the rigor of the SAT is the time limit. The test is seeing how well you can critically think and analyze in difficult conditions. With the clock winding down, it’s important to to operate in an efficient and effective manner on the final couple of math questions in each section. After all, these are the questions that make the difference between a good score and a great score. To ensure that there is ample time left over for the last few math questions on each section, it’s important to understand that not every question is created equally.

There are three sections of math on the test. One is 25 minutes for 20 questions, the second is 25 minutes for 18 questions, and the third is 20 minutes for 16 questions. This leaves about one minute and 15 seconds to complete each question. If you allotted equal time to every question, you wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the more difficult questions. It’s close to impossible to figure those out and calculate the correct answer in a little more than a minute.

This is where a lot of students’ issues come in. Many automatically distribute equal time to each question without taking into account the level of difficulty. On the math sections, the level of rigor on each question increases. This means that No. 4 is more difficult than No. 1 and No 20 is more difficult than No. 11. On the grid-in section, it resets at No. 9. so treat 1 through 8 and 9 through 18 as two self-contained sections in terms of difficulty.

Understanding this, the logic follows that you should allocate more time to the last 50 percent of the questions than to first 50 percent. The early questions on the SAT are fairly simple. They require two or three steps at most. If it is taking longer than that, there was probably a silly error made early on when analyzing the question. This means that the first 30 percent of the questions should not take very long at all. Instead of evenly distributing your time and effort between the first four and last four, make sure you shave off enough time on the first few questions to leave ample time at the end.

This approach has helped countless students pace themselves better on the test. It’s pretty simple but incredibly effective. Once students eliminate the mental block that all questions should take a similar amount of time on the test, they are able to get through all the questions.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? Take advantage of Veritas Prep’s free SAT resources, including free SAT video lessons.