Watches and Pacing on the ACT and SAT

Proper pacing is an important factor for success on any timed exam. Students preparing for the ACT or SAT need to know how fast (or slow) they should work each section of the test.

Monitor your pace throughout each section.

The best way to monitor pace on the ACT / SAT is by passage. For example, the ACT English (section 1) is 45 minutes long with 75 questions. You could think of pacing in terms of minutes per question, but it is hard to keep track of your progress by just knowing you should complete a question every .6 minutes (or 1.66 questions per minute.)

Instead of trying to time each question, you should look at the English section as a collection of 5 passages, each with 15 questions. 45 minutes divided by 5 passages means you have 9 minutes per passage. You can work the first set of 15 questions and when you finish, check your watch. Are you close to 9 minutes? If so, great; keep working. If you have been working too quickly, take a deep breath and proceed to the next passage with a plan to slow down. If you took too long, you know to speed up, but you still have four passages to go, giving you a fair opportunity to make up the time and still finish.

Per passage pacing works on all sections of the ACT and SAT except for math which is not divided into passages.

Here is a pacing guide with times per passage for all non-math test sections:


Section Total Time for This Section Number of Passages Number of Questions per Passage TIME PER PASSAGE

(to finish all)

English 45 min. 5 15 9 min.


Reading 35 min. 4 10 8.5 min.


Science 35 min. 6 Varies

(usually 6-7)


5-6 min.
Reading 65 min. 5 10-11 13 min.


Writing 35 min. 4 11 8.5 min.



Knowing your pace per section is fundamental, but only part of the challenge. In order to work at the right speed, you also need to monitor your progress during the test. This is where having a watch or timer is essential.

Do not rely on your proctor for time.

Here is what the ACT says:

Bring a watch to pace yourself, but do not bring a watch with an alarm. If your alarm sounds during testing, you’ll be dismissed and your answers will not be scored. No watch? No problem. The supervisor in standard time rooms will announce when you have five minutes remaining on each test.

“No watch? No problem.” This is terrible advice! You need to keep track of time throughout each section and not wait for the last five minutes hoping the supervisor provides an accurate warning. You should monitor your own pacing.

Yes, the test center should have a clock in the room. But this isn’t enough to properly track your progress.

In the middle of a stressful and taxing exam, you don’t have time to do a lot of mental math. “We started Section 1 at 8:17 and I’ve finished the third passage at 8:42. Am I on pace for this section?” You also don’t want to chance sitting in a testing room where the clock is located on the back wall requiring you to turn around to check the time. Or in a classroom with a broken clock…

Bring your own watch!

Ideally, every test taker would have his or her own timepiece. Of course some watches are better than others for this purpose. Here are my top choices, in order:

1. Stopwatch

The easiest way to monitor time is with a stopwatch. Many digital watches now come with this feature. Unfortunately, unless you purchase a high-end model, your watch probably beeps every time you push “start/stop” or “clear.” Watches are allowed, but they must be silent.

It is easy to make your watch stop beeping. All you need is a small screwdriver and some paper or tape. Here’s how:


Last fall I went to the local sporting goods store and bought a digital watch with a stopwatch feature for my daughter to take her SAT. We spent less than $15 on the watch and modified it according to the video above. I’ve found plenty of inexpensive watches on Amazon that have the stopwatch option. It is worth $5-$15 and a little time to have a reliable stopwatch for use on the ACT or SAT.

2. Analog watch (“Mickey’s Hands” watch)

If you don’t have a watch with the stopwatch feature, the next best option is the traditional analog watch. I tell my students to think of this as a “Mickey’s Hands” watch or a watch that has a face very similar to the traditional clock found in most classrooms.

You might think this type of watch would make it hard to time passages, but there is a trick. At the beginning of each section, reset the watch to 12:00. Now the minute hand will tell you how long you have been working. During the exam, you don’t need to know what hour it is, so you can focus on the minute hand to time each section.

3. Digital watch [NOT recommended]

While it is very easy to read the time on a digital watch, it is not easy to determine time elapsed for the purpose of pacing. If your digital watch doesn’t have a stopwatch feature, I’d recommend you use an analog watch or get a stopwatch for use on the day of the test.

Prohibited Devices

To minimize opportunities for cheating, the ACT and College Board (SAT) prohibit electronic devices that could aid students in transmitting answers or recording audio or video. This means all smart watches are prohibited. In general, testing centers will err on the side of caution, so to avoid possible issues, make sure the watch you bring on test day is only a watch. Do not bring a “watch” that could receive texts, record data, or connect to other devices via Bluetooth such as an Apple Watch or FitBit.

Here are the policies you should follow:





Know the pace you need to keep for each section and bring your own watch, so you can monitor your progress on the ACT or SAT.


Technology That Makes College Life Easier

(No more rolls of coins-- just swipe your campus ID.)

(No more rolls of coins– just swipe your campus ID.)

If you’ve been on a college tour recently, you will see that life isn’t the same as it was a few decades ago when I was living in the dorms. Here are some fun and useful innovations you will see on many college campuses.

High-Tech Laundry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGone are the days of spending all day trying to wash clothes—waiting in the laundry room, hoping a free machine will open up, debating whether you should take out the dry clothes from the machine (and if you do, do you need to fold them???).

Dormitory laundries have gone high tech. Machines can send texts to students when a load is ready or alert you when a machine is available.

Students used to arrive at college with rolls of quarters for the laundry machines, but today’s student only needs to swipe his or her student ID card to charge the laundry fee to his or her campus account.

Zip Cars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving a car at college can be convenient, but it can also be prohibitively expensive in some places. Students who want to use a car for a quick trip to the store or weekend getaway can use a Zipcar®.

Zipcars, which are found on many college campuses, can be rented by the hour or the day. Unlike traditional rental car companies that restrict rentals to drivers under 25, Zipcars, complete with insurance, are available on many college campuses for students to drive. After completing an online application, an approved student can reserve one of the campus Zipcars at any time he or she needs to use one.

Digital Textbook Options

In the past, students were at the mercy of the campus bookstore (and bookstore prices!). Today’s students have an array of better options—electronic textbooks, textbook rentals, and online shopping at retailers such as Amazon.

In addition, e-readers such as Kindles, Nooks, and iPads allow students to store all of their textbooks on a single electronic device, reducing space required for books and saving money at the same time.

Keep in mind that sometimes you will want to have the actual book, rather than its electronic counterpart. Reading novels from your tablet is fine, but trying to flip back and forth to the charts or formulas in a textbook can be challenging.

Networked Wireless Campus

Most students are accustomed to using wireless networks in coffee shops, campus housing, and academic buildings. Having Wi-Fi available across campus means students can study when and where they want.

Campus printers are also networked at most schools, so a student can print a paper in her dorm, the library, or the science lab.

In addition, students can access library resources from across campus, taking advantage of the thousand of materials available online. You may no longer need to sorry about library hours if everything you need is available online 24/7.

Cell Phones and Apps

Most high school students already enjoy the benefits of cell phones, particularly smart phones capable of supporting apps. Because cell phones are so pervasive, students no longer need to worry about setting up a phone line in the dorm or taking messages for a roommate. Parents can enjoy the affordability and flexibility of calling plans.

Students will find a variety of apps that make college life easier, including homework trackers, flashcards for a variety of subjects, organizers, alarm clocks, and fun distractions.

Dining Plan Flexibility

Most colleges have linked students’ dining plans and credits to student ID cards. Historically, these dining credits could only be used in on-campus dining halls during specific hours, but today’s credits can be used across campus at any time. Students now may swipe ID cards at vending machines in the dorms or academic buildings; and some colleges even have agreements with local restaurants, which allow students to spend dining credits off campus.


On campus tours, parents often are amazed by the new innovations that make college life easier for students. Some are conveniences designed to save time and minimize frustration. Others are perks that make life on campus more comfortable. As technology continues to develop, college students will benefit from new innovations.



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