The SAT and ACT, as if testing a ton of math, grammar, and reading comprehension wasn’t tough enough, also challenge a test taker’s time management skills. Basically, many students fail to finish specific sections, which is by design. The highest scores go to those who earn the most points, which usually requires seeing ALL of the questions. So what do you do when you tend to run out of time on a section?
1. Focus first on accuracy instead of speed.
Getting to more questions means nothing if you get those questions wrong. Your best score begins with answering as many of the questions you see correctly. Sometimes that means learning the math or grammar content that is tested, while other times, learning the right way to read will be the key to greater accuracy.
2. Learn the right strategies.
A perfect note on a flute doesn’t come naturally; neither does a perfect 20-foot putt. Anyone who wishes to master a sport, art, or skill strives to learn from the masters. The SAT and ACT also yield to strategies–like the ones we teach— that help students answer each question type as quickly, easily, and accurately as possible.
3. Make strategies your own through practice.
Basketball great Kobe Bryant is legendary for his insane work ethic, which included training for four hours a day during the season, and even more than that in the offseason. Why would a Hall-of-Fame player push himself so hard? Because that’s how you internalize all of the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of excellence. No matter how good your coaches are, you don’t make their strategies your own without the highest quality practice possible.
4. Build speed gradually.
Perfection takes time. Once you’ve improved your accuracy, start increasing your speed. Think bout the last race you were in: did you run at a comfortable pace or one that pushed your limits? Commit to moving more quickly, but start with passages or groups of questions before working up to full timed passages. For example, the ACT English section delivers 5 passages with 15 questions each to be completed in only 45 minutes. This means that a student who can finish each passage within 9 minutes will see every question. Once you’ve improved your speed per passage, move on to sections.
5. Take full-length timed practice tests.
Increasing your speed per section helps your cause, but the SAT and ACT are four-hour ordeals: basically a series of sprints that make up a marathon. Sometimes, we slow down when we run out of energy or focus. Build your endurance while developing the judgment that allows you to allocate your time and other resources effectively by taking full-length practice tests under timed conditions. Just be sure to use the right tests, which means the official ones released by the testmakers themselves!
So if you’re running out of time on your tests, take comfort in knowing that speed and accuracy can both be improved. Ironically, learning to work more quickly can be a slow process but ultimately a worthy one.