Timed tests make some students feel as if they are on the starting block at an Olympic race waiting for the gun to fire so they can speed through the section. Unfortunately the SAT and ACT are awarding points for accuracy not speed. Many students undermine their scores by failing to control their SAT or ACT pacing.
Working Too Fast Hurts Focus
These standardized college admissions tests are not self-paced. Students who work too quickly and finish early are not permitted to move on to the next section; they have to sit and wait until time is called. With some students finishing 5, 10, even 20 minutes early, the sit and wait is a time to lose momentum and focus.
If you finish a section more than a minute or two early, you need a strategy to maintain focus:
- Do NOT put your head down. You don’t want to power your brain from off to full-speed at the beginning of each section.
- Do NOT “check your work.” Students who go back to “check” after finishing a section tend to do more harm than good. If you intended to review questions, do so, but once you are finished further review usually means second guessing correct answers.
- Relax, but keep sharp. Stay awake and alert while taking a short rest time.
Working Too Fast Hurts Accuracy
I know from experience that working too fast means lots of little mistakes I wouldn’t have otherwise made—misreading questions, miscalculating problems, and a lack of full focus. If you have ever raced through problems and gone back to see what you missed only to find silly mistakes, you know how this feels.
Your SAT and ACT scores are based on the number of questions you answer correctly. (The SAT even deducts points for wrong answers.) So it is to your advantage to make each question count.
- Determine your own “speed limit.” How quickly can you work each type of problem while still maintaining your accuracy?
- Before you take the real test, take a timed practice test.
- Take time to write out complicated problems, underline key terms, sketch out figures, reread the question or passage, and think.
- Don’t feel as if you need to keep pace with everyone else. Don’t hurry just because you hear other test takers turning the page or bubbling in answers. Set your own speed.
Finding the right balance between accuracy and time requires you to work at a pace that is directed and focused, not rushed or careless. A few students work too slowly, but an overwhelming majority are working too fast. Your score will improve when you increase the number of questions you answer correctly, so work at a pace that allows you to get the maximum number of problems right.