Running out of time on the SAT Math: 10 tips for SAT Math time management

By Kathryn Marquis Azevedo

Most students take the SAT timed, which means there is a time limit during which students can work on each section of the SAT. The shortest math section on the SAT has a twenty-minute time limit (for 16 questions), while the other two math sections have a 25-minute time limit (more time for more questions). Students who find it difficult to finish all the math questions in the allotted time may find the following time-saving strategies helpful.

It should be noted, however, that finishing all the questions in a section is not imperative to getting a high score. A student’s score is likely to be higher if he or she answers questions deliberately and thoughtfully – and thus answers questions correctly – than if he or she rushes through the sections, answering questions incorrectly, for the sake of finishing in time.

10 tips for saving time on the SAT Math

1.  On the math sections, answer the easier questions first, as these presumably take less time to answer. (A student can always attempt the harder questions if there is time at the end of the section). The math questions increase in difficulty. On the section with the grid-ins, the questions increase in difficulty from 1-8, and again from 9-18.

2.  On certain math questions, a student may arrive at an answer more quickly if he or she plugs in the answer options. When plugging in answers, it can be helpful to start with answer option C (the middle number), as doing so may reveal if a larger or smaller number is needed. Further details for this process are outlined on card 9 of the SAT Math SullivanCards.

3.  Cross-multiply early and often (see card 4 of the SAT Math SullivanCards), as the test-makers write certain questions with cross-multiplication in mind.

4.  Students should know their geometry (and other relevant) formulas, especially the ones that are not given at the beginning of each math section. See the SAT Math SullivanCards for all other significant formulas a student needs to know.

5.  Some questions become easier (and thus less time-consuming) when students throw numbers in for variables. When using this strategy, students should try to use numbers that make the question easier, such as using 100 for percent questions. More details about this process are on card 8 of the SAT Math SullivanCards.

6.  Students should re-read questions that seem harder than they should. The SAT math questions can be wordy, and understanding what questions are really asking is essential to saving time in the long run.

7.  Students should skip certain hard questions. Unless a student’s goal is to score in the high 600’s or above, he or she should skip questions that are very difficult. This is important since all questions are worth the same (ie: the questions are not weighted).

8.  Practice! The more practice SAT tests a student takes, the more confidence he or she will have. Students who take sufficient practice tests before the real SAT also become familiar with the test instructions, format and common questions, which naturally increases one’s testing pace.

9.  Do not spend too long on any one question. Some questions are certainly more difficult than others, but students should be aware of the questions that are taking “too long” and either take an educated guess (if they have eliminated one or more answer options) or skip the question.

10.  Be okay with skipping questions. Many students panic when they run out of time on a section, falsely believing that a few blank answers will profoundly affect their score. If a student panics on one section, he or she is likely to approach subsequent sections with an unfocused mind, which can lead to leaving even more questions blank on the rest of the test.

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