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Test PrepSATMathTime Management

SAT Math Skill Review: Time Management

The SAT demands solid time management skills. The test structure itself helps you out a little bit by slicing and dicing the more than three hours you’ll spend at the testing center into more manageable 20 and 25 minute chunks of time. However, it’s still possible to lose your way within a given section.

The Math sections of the test are organized in such a way that questions become more challenging as you proceed. That means question #10 will be more difficult than question #1 and question #20 will be more difficult than question #10. Difficulty is subjective, however, so when we say “more difficult,” what we really mean is that, overall, fewer test-takers are likely to identify the credited response.

What the Typical Test-Taker Does

The typical test-taker flies through the first third to half of the math sections and then starts to slow down, often running out of time before he or she is finished. Moreover, by barreling through the beginning, careless mistakes are frequently made. Indeed, most test-takers spend too long on questions they have little chance of answering correctly and not enough time on those they absolutely should (and can) get right! Remember, every math question is worth the same amount.

Don’t Be Typical

Here’s a better strategy for you: 

  1. Move efficiently through each math section. Speed doesn’t count for anything if careless mistakes are the result.
  2. Stay in control. Don’t get hung up on any one question. Eliminate as many answer choices as you can, make your best guess and move on. If there’s time at the end, you can circle back.
  3. Skip questions on the topics you struggle with.

Remember: You are in control of your testing experience. If you get stuck or lost or freaked-out, take ten seconds, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Those ten seconds will be well-spent.

Don’t Panic if You Don’t Finish

Unless you are aiming for a score above 700*, you really don’t need to answer all the questions. You can choose to guess on questions that you don’t get to (just pick a “letter of the day”) or leave them blank. Typically, unless you can eliminate at least one answer choice, it will neither help nor hurt your score. Grid-in questions are tougher to “guess” on and not worth the trouble if you don’t get to them.

Not finishing a section isn’t necessarily a game-ender; just don’t leave questions you usually ace blank. You don't want to run out of time on the types of questions you typically miss anyway.

*Note, if you are aiming for a score above 700, finishing the test is important – a few blank questions won’t kill you, but more than that will make it tougher to achieve your goal score.


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Don Munce