What are some SAT time management strategies?
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What are some SAT time management strategies?

What are some SAT time management strategies?

Perhaps the most stressful aspect of any standardized test is the timing. The SAT, ACT, and AP exams all require you to answer questions quickly. If you don’t finish before time is up—too bad, so sad.

You may have excellent reading comprehension skills or know how to solve quadratic equations, but if you do not do well under the pressure of limited time, tests like the SAT can be extraordinarily stressful. (Indeed, time constraints are a valid criticism of the test!)

However, there are many ways to improve your time management skills on the SAT. Read on for eight tips that will make the most improvement to your pacing!

  1. Attitude vs. Anxiety

    These first two tips are closely intertwined, but I want to start with the importance of mindset first because it will set the tone for your test prep. Test anxiety is a real thing and time constraints just make it worse. All of the tips below will go a long way in helping you manage your time on the SAT, and thereby manage any test anxiety.

    However, all the top ten tips in the world will not help without the right attitude. When I taught in the classroom, it was not uncommon for students to tell me they were bad at English or writing or grammar or whatever. I usually heard this before we had even started the lesson. I would give them one of my teacher looks (you know the one) and tell them that if they were going to think like that, then of course they couldn’t.

    If you let your text anxiety tell you that you are doomed to fail at the start, you will not get very far. Everything will be harder if you let yourself believe that you are too slow and will never get through the test.

    Don’t let the anxiety win. You are always more capable than you think. If you need to fake it until you make it—do that. Get your mind right, and dive into the work. You got this.
  2. Practice=experience=confidence

    This is not exactly a quick tip, but this will make the biggest improvement in your time management.

    Know the SAT exam inside and out. Know the order of the test, how many questions in each section, how much time per section, and more. Understand the instructions for each section so you do not have to waste time reading them. While you do not need to memorize any of this information, being familiar with it will ensure that you are not surprised on test day.

    Ideally, when you sit down for the SAT on your scheduled exam day, it should feel familiar. You know what you will see on the test because you have practiced questions for every section and taken several timed practice tests.

    All of this practice becomes experience that will have you feeling confident on test day. You will not even be worried about time management because you have a plan of attack for the exam.
  3. Know your target score

    The first part of your plan is knowing your target score. Unless you are trying for a perfect score (if that’s you—go for it, but know that it is not necessary for any school), you do not need to get every question right!

    Though every year is slightly different in terms of exact scoring, answering only 80% of the questions right in each section will net you a score of 1300 or slightly higher. 1300 is far above average and more than sufficient for many schools. Do your research to determine the average score for admitted students at your preferred schools and work from there. Click here to learn more about how scoring works on the SAT.

    When you know how many questions you need to answer correctly, you can feel more comfortable skipping over harder questions and spending more time on questions you know you can answer.
  4. Priority Planning

    Speaking of a plan, part of that plan should include how you will prioritize the questions on the exam. While every section features questions that are easy, medium, or hard in difficulty, how they are ordered is different for each section. Let’s look at each section individually.


The first thing you must do in this section is to prioritize the passages. There will always be a literary passage and a historical primary source passage along with three passages drawn from the sciences and social sciences. Through practice, you will know which passages you can breeze through and which you struggle with. Start with passages that are easier for you first. Within each passage, answer questions that you can answer quickly and circle back to more difficult, time-consuming questions afterward. If you have practiced enough, you should have some sense of which questions cause you the most difficulty so that you can make these choices easily on test day.

For more information on tackling the Reading test, click here.

Writing and Language

Like the Reading test, this test is also organized by passage. However, all of the passages feature a similar reading level regardless of the subject. They are created by the College Board to be examples of student informational essays—something you might write for a class assignment. Instead, you only need to worry about the difficulty of the questions. The difficulty is mixed up because the questions follow the order of the passage. Once again, practice is key; familiarity with the question types will help you identify which you can answer quickly or not.

As a general rule, questions that require you to consider the logical order of a paragraph or its main idea tend to take longer simply because you must consider more text to answer the question. How you choose to read the passage and questions will make a difference, though. For more information on different strategies to try, click here.


The math test is the most straightforward in terms of difficulty. Each portion, calculator and non-calculator, has multiple-choice questions first and grid-in questions at the end. Each of those parts is arranged in order of difficulty. Armed with this knowledge and that of your own strengths and weaknesses in math, a good strategy is to go through the questions quickly at first, answering those you can do in a minute or less. Mark those that will take you extra time. Come back to those after completing all the questions you know you can answer quickly.

For more information on different strategies to try, click here.

  1. Use all your time

    This may seem like strange advice if you are often running out of time. However, notice if you consistently zone out or become distracted during practice tests. If that is the case, make sure you are taking care of yourself, like eating and sleeping enough. Not getting enough of either can affect your concentration.

    Another technique to try is to practice restricting your time. (Only try this if you do not have too much trouble finishing within the time limit.) Allow yourself slightly less time to complete a section; for example, practice completing the Writing and Language test in 32 minutes rather than 35.  The idea is to give yourself a cushion of time. You can use those few extra minutes to check your answers or spend them on a more time-consuming question that you know you can do. As mentioned earlier, depending on your target score, an extra question answered can mean earning that many more points.
  2. Eye your time

    If you are always surprised when the timer goes off or the test proctor tells you to put your pencil down, start looking at the clock more often! Of course, using the timer on your phone can help, but you will not have that during the exam. I suggest using the timer in the beginning, but once you feel comfortable with the time provided for each section, practice with a clock instead.

    Every test room will have a clock, and you are allowed a wristwatch. (No smartwatches! Digital watches under twenty dollars are easy to find—just make sure it’s silent during the test!) Know when time begins and ends; practice checking the clock during each section. It is a good idea to check after each passage for Reading and Writing and Language and every ten questions for Math.

    Practicing this technique consistently will help you remain aware of the time without it affecting your focus and flow too much. Ideally, you will be able to look at the clock, estimate your remaining time, and keep going. If this means you have to improve your mental math, that will just improve your time in the Math section!
  3. No answers blank

    There is no penalty for wrong answers, so there is no reason to leave any bubbles blank on your answer sheet! It is ok to skip questions, and it is okay to guess, but it is never ok to leave answers blank! When proctoring a multiple-choice test like the SAT, I hate seeing students turn in answer sheets with chunks of empty bubbles. If they had only bubbled, they would pick up a few more points!

    The trick is to fill in the same letter for each question you totally guess on. I call this the “guessing letter.” Before the exam begins, decide on a letter—B, for example. For each question that you need to skip, bubble B and move on. Now, if you have used process of elimination and narrowed it to C and D, obviously don’t bubble B. Using the same guessing letter ensures that you will pick up one or two correct answers, especially if you need to guess on several questions.
  4. Bubble in batches

    Finally, an easy way to gain time is by bubbling in batches. Flipping back and forth between your test booklet and answer sheet for every question takes up time! While some students might wait until they are through all the questions to bubble, I prefer to bubble at the end of every page spread (a left-hand page and a right-hand page). This technique has several benefits because you are:
                —flipping fewer pages
                —less likely to skip over a bubble
                —more likely to catch a bubbling mistake early, making it easier to fix
                —less likely to run out of time bubbling at the end

    As always, start practicing this strategy as part of your test prep. The more automatic you can make certain things, like guessing, checking time, and bubbling, the less time they will take up on test day!


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