No doubt about it: the SAT is a pressure cooker. You’re asked to answer tons of questions both quickly and accurately, with a proctor constantly reminding you of how much time is left. Even if you’re the best test-taker in the world, the almighty clock can be pretty scary.
That said, here are a few strategies to help you make the most of your time:
1. Don’t be afraid to skip questions and return to them later. If you’re having trouble, move on and come back once you’ve tackled the rest of the section. Believe me, we’ve all been there: You see a tough question, freeze up, and panic. But remember, you have only 25 minutes for the longer sections, and 20 and 10 for the shorter ones. So, if you do get stuck on a question, is it a good idea to spend five valuable minutes trying to figure out what to do? Probably not. Instead, skip the question, and return if you have time. Remember, each question is worth the same number of points, so no single question is so important that it merits five minutes of your time.
2. Take notes on Reading Comprehension passages. You’re allowed to write in your booklet for a reason. Feel free to underline key sentences and jot down main ideas. It might seem like a waste of time, but if you take notes in such a way that you can easily reference key points in the passage, it may actually end up saving you time. How? Well, when a question asks about a particular point, but does not tell you exactly where to look in the passage, what will happen if you haven’t taken notes? Right—you’ll waste time rereading a good portion of the passage. Try out different strategies and take the time to develop a note-taking strategy that works for you. You’ll be grateful for it on test day!
3. Take notes before writing the essay. Even though you have only 25 minutes to write, you’d be surprised how much taking a couple minutes to outline your essay can help in the long run. Now of course, we’re not talking a super-neat outline that you’d turn in for a project. It only has to be legible to you. The test-makers know you have only 25 minutes to write the essay, so they are not expecting something that is final-draft quality. Essays that earn the highest possible score may still have mistakes or style problems, but they should have a strong general structure. Taking a minute to outline your thesis and supporting points will help big-time in this regard.