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The Importance of Pacing

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

Without saying, I think everybody knows that finishing a test within the required time is a very important element in getting a higher score. Because all tests have time limits, it becomes essential that we make good use of our time in the tests. In SAT and ACT tests, the time limit for each section is different. In some sections, students are given more time than necessary, but in others, students often complain that they did not have enough time to finish. The solution to test time management is pacing. In each section, students should pace themselves according to their abilities so that they can achieve the highest score possible.

Reading comprehension is an area in which students complain most often about not able to finish on time. ACT Science is another area. But in order to understand the problem clearly, we will use reading comprehension as an example. Different students have diverse reading speeds; they go through the passages at different paces. Therefore, the first thing they have to do is to find their own natural pace of reading. That means they should not rush themselves in reading the passage, miss a lot of information from the passage, and then pay the penalty by spending a lot of time answering the questions, reading and re-reading the passage again. In this case, keeping a natural pace is very important. Students should be able to find their natural pace once they are put into a drilling practice. And once they find them, most students should be able to keep this “ideal” pace all through the section and finish within the time limit.

Modern athletes know this principle very well. Take the modern-day Olympic marathon for example. Once started, the runners have to keep their own pace. If they started off the race in a pace that is faster than what they are used to, they would become exhausted half-way through and may not even be able to finish the race, much less getting a medal. Some countries have used this tactic in the past to “trick” athletes of other countries to run at a faster pace at the start by sending out a “decoy” to lead a faster pace. Most of the athletes fell into this trap by following the faster pace, afraid that they might fall behind even farther if they cannot keep pace. But by mid-way through the race, most of them would be exhausted and the real contestant for the medal will come up from behind to overtake them. Many gold medals have been won this way.

What is the ideal pace for reading comprehension sections in SAT and ACT then? Well, there is no ideal pace for every student because their abilities differ. But the rule of thumb here is that students should spend half of the time reading the passage and half of the time answering the 10 to 11 questions. There is no scientific principle behind this, but empirically, my extensive experience working with students tells me this is the “ideal” pace for most students. Once the students find their own “ideal” pace, they have to be able to keep them no matter what happens in this test. And this takes much practice. In the Exam Drills, I always go through the drills with them so that they can find and keep their own paces. Once they can do that consistently, they will be able to achieve the highest score that they can get with respect to their abilities.

Here we are only using reading comprehension as an example because this is the most common problem that students have with pacing. Other pacing strategies can be applied to other sections of the test as well and they are practiced in the SAT/ACT Exam Drill lessons. Once they can keep their pace consistently, most of them have come back with surprisingly good results.

Mr. Paul Lim

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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