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Time Management in SAT and ACT Math

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Students who cannot finish within the time limit are those who are fundamentally weak in either math concepts or calculations.  The only remedy is to reinforce the concepts again and then practice, practice, and more practice.  Practice the areas that they are weak in so that they can be thoroughly familiar with these questions.

By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

In the last article, we talked about score fluctuations in math and the core and peripheral topics covered by the tests.  Although the syllabus of SAT and ACT math are slightly different, their core topics are basically the same, the only difference is in the peripheral topics.  Continuing on the topic of math, we are going to discuss the general time management strategies in the math sections.

Timing is one of the most important considerations in these tests and I have a standard timing strategy that all students need to follow.  But now, let’s look at the time limit for each section.  For SAT section 3 (no calculator), timing is 25 minutes for 20 questions (1 minute 15 seconds per question) and for section 4 (with calculator), it is 55 minutes for 38 questions (1 minute 27 seconds per question).  For ACT section 2 math, it is 60 minutes for 60 questions (1 minute per question).

I recommend students go through the math sections in 2 passes: the first pass is to answer all questions that they know how to solve and skip those they don’t know, or they think it will take a longer time to solve.  This is what we mean by picking the low-hanging fruits.  Timing for the first pass is very important, especially for those who want to score very high.  For SAT, they should be able to keep pace at 1 minute per question.  In the case that they spent more than 1 minute 30 seconds in any single question, they should consider skipping the question.  For ACT, in which the questions are easier and more straightforward, it should be about 40 seconds per question.  Again, in the case that they are spending more than 1 minute on any single question, they should also consider skipping the question.  This is what I mean by pacing and this is an important part of exam drilling.  They should be trained to follow this pace so that once they have gone through all the questions, they should have some time left for the second pass.

The second pass is to go back to the beginning of the section and check the answers and also work on the questions that they have skipped in the first pass.  This should take up all the remaining time for the section.  Students need to be trained to develop the patience to check through each question once, twice, or even three times.  I sometimes say that “asking a teenager to have patience is like asking a homeless man for his address.”  But this is something that needs to be trained and instilled in them at this age.  Often times, they need to read the question again or try to solve the question in a different way, if time permits.  This two-pass strategy is the most effective method to ensure a higher score in the math sections.

However, most parents and students would say that they don’t have enough time to go through all the questions once, much less having the time to go back and check.  What should they do then?  In that case, the answer is very simple.  Students who cannot finish within the time limit are those who are fundamentally weak in either math concepts or calculations.  The only remedy is to reinforce the concepts again and then practice, practice, and more practice.  Practice the areas that they are weak in so that they can be thoroughly familiar with these questions.  This is one of the many values of exam drilling.

SAT ACT Trainer Mr. Paul Lim, Time Management in Math Section

Mr. Paul Lim

Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer

MBA, National University of Singapore

B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College

TBE

TESOL

  • Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
  • Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
  • Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
  • Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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