Advanced Time Management in SAT and ACT Math
By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer
In the last article, we discussed the general time management strategies in the math sections of SAT and ACT. In this article, we are going to discuss more detailed timing strategies in the two tests. These strategies have been tried and tested in many of my students and they have found to be very useful not only in helping students to finish the tests on time but also giving them some time left to check for answers.
For ACT section 2 math, it is 60 minutes for 60 questions (1 minute per question). As I said previously, since the ACT math questions are easier and more straightforward, we should aim for 40 seconds per question. That means the first pass should take about 40 minutes, and the remaining 20 minutes would be devoted to checking answers and doing the questions that have been skipped in the first pass.
For SAT math sections 3 and 4, timing becomes a bit trickier because there are different timing requirements for each section. Section 3 is the non-calculator section with 20 questions in 25 minutes. This section is more straightforward in that the first pass should be 1 question per minute. Therefore, after 20 minutes into the test, the student should go back and check their answers and also work on the questions that they skipped previously. Students who can manage this pace should be able to do well in this section.
However, for section 4, the situation becomes more complicated because one timing requirement will not be able to cover all 38 questions. Therefore, in my drills with students, I would divide section 4 into 2 parts: the first part is from Question 1 to Question 20 (Part A), and the second part is from Question 20 to Question 38 (Part B). For Part A, the questions are usually quite easy and can be done within a shorter period of time; therefore, we retain the 1 minute per question pace. Once they finished the first 20 questions, they should go back and check their answers to ensure that they are correct. This is to make sure that they did not make calculation or other careless mistakes that would pull down their scores. Competent students should be able to score all these 20 questions correctly. After that, students should proceed to Part B. Note that Question 21 to Question 30 are more difficult and they should spend more time on them. They should allocate 1 minute 30 seconds for each question on average. Then, from Question 31 to Question 38 (the grid-in questions), the questions become easier again. Therefore, they should resume their 1 minute per question pace. On average, Questions 21 to 38 should take about 23 minutes. Once again, after finishing Part B, they should go back (only to Part B because Part A has been checked) and check their answers and work on those that they skipped previously.
In exam drilling, I guide students through this pacing so that they become comfortable with the timing, not spend too much time on any single question, and also to ensure they check their answers adequately to minimize careless mistakes. This is the way to ensure that students can “pocket” the points on the questions that they know, not to spend too much time on the questions that they don’t know, and attain their highest possible scores in the tests.
Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
- 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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