Managing Time on the SAT Math Sections

Part of the SAT Math For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Students often ask how to budget their time on the SAT. You have only a certain amount of time to complete any one SAT math section, and you need to make the best use of that time to optimize your score. Here are a few tips for pacing yourself:

  • Don't sacrifice accuracy for speed. This rule is all-important. Although speed is important, don't rush so fast that you start making mistakes that cost you points.

  • Be aware of the time. Remember that the three math sections of the SAT are timed as follows:

    • 25 minutes for 20 multiple-choice questions

    • 25 minutes for 18 questions: 8 multiple-choice questions and 10 grid-in questions (also called student-produced response questions), which require you to write your answers in a special grid

    • 20 minutes for 16 multiple-choice questions

    That works out to a little more than a minute to do each question.

  • Push yourself to work faster at the beginning to save time for the end. In each section, earlier questions tend to be easier and later questions tend to be tougher, so get a sense of flow going early in the test. Work through the early questions as quickly as you can. All questions are worth the same number of points, so make sure you get the early questions correct.

    Here's an idea for pacing yourself while taking practice tests: See whether you can complete six early questions in four minutes. If four minutes seems impossible, set a goal of five minutes. And if four minutes starts to get easy — that is, if you get all six questions right in four minutes without trouble — see whether you can push it to three minutes without sacrificing accuracy. Every second you save on the easier questions early in a section may help you answer one of the tougher questions later on.

  • Skip over questions that don't make sense to you. Even though early questions tend to be easier, if you find an early question to be confusing or difficult, skip to the next question.

  • When the going gets tough, circle back to answer the questions you skipped. If you're skipping over more questions than you're answering, circle back to work on the early questions you skipped. You may find they're not as bad as you thought, and they're probably easier than the questions that await at the end of the section.

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SAT Math For Dummies Cheat Sheet

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