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Pace Yourself by Subject Test (ACT/SAT)

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Standardized Test Prep Middle/High School Strategy

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Anxiety Organization Working Memory Attention Processing Speed Visual Motor Speed

Pace Yourself by Subject Test (ACT/SAT)

The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.
— Brian Herbert

It is essential on standardized tests to have a good awareness of time, recognizing when you need to work quickly and when you need to slow down to ensure accuracy.

General Pacing Strategies

  1. Choose the best test for you based on pace. Typically students who work more slowly and deliberately prefer the pace of the SAT over the ACT. Keep in mind, though, pacing is just one factor to consider.
  2. Take timed sample tests to become familiar with each subject test and the pace you need to finish. You will need a different approach for each subject test which also will vary between the SAT and ACT if you are taking both.
  3. Find a watch that is allowable for the test that you can use to help you manage your time. Practice with that same watch. Using a watch on your desk will save you time of looking up at the clock in the room.
  4. Create a schedule to track time on each subject test that includes start time, end time, number of questions completed, and accuracy. Some students choose to practice by only using the allotted time. Others give themselves the time they need to finish to see their best accuracy and then decide how to cut time later. Use this schedule throughout your test preparation process to track progress.
  5. Develop a strategy for each subject test which includes: average time per question, maximum time per question, and maximum time per reading passage. See the next slides for how you might decide to allocate time per question based on your target score.
  6. Decide the most efficient way to answer the questions and fill in the answer sheet. Will you complete consecutive questions in order or create your own order. Will you fill in the answer sheet after each question or fill in groups of questions. The goal is for you to figure out how you work best for both speed and accuracy.
  7. Once you choose your strategies, use them with every practice test to develop a rhythm.
  8. After you score each practice test, immediately reflect on what worked and where you can improve. Look for patterns in your performance. Are you making careless mistakes and need to give yourself a minimum time per question? Are you running out of time and need to give yourself less time on the initial questions? Are certain types of questions taking you longer? Identify what content you might need to practice more but also make adjustments to your timing strategy so you continue to improve.
  9. Stamina will be important. As you get closer to test day, be sure to practice sitting for full-length tests so your mind and body (especially your eyes and hand) are prepared.
  10. At least one week before the test, commit your pacing schedule to memory. Know your timing by subject test and stick to it. Having reliable strategies on test day can lessen anxiety and improve overall performance.

Target Number Of Questions

  1. Use this strategy by subject test if you are having difficulty finishing in the allotted time. This strategy can maximize your accuracy on the questions you can finish.
  2. Set a realistic goal for the number of questions you think you can answer accurately using your practice test results.
  3. Based on your goal, calculate your projected score. As a starting point, assume your accuracy on the questions you can answer comfortably, typically in the range of 80-90%. Assume you will randomly fill in the remaining questions and get 20-25% correct by guessing.
  4. Given your target number of questions, calculate an average time to spend per question overall or by question type.
  5. Monitor your progress with each practice session, and continue to adapt and adjust your targets as you take additional practice tests. If you find that there are specific types of problems that are taking too much time or you have knowledge gaps do extra practice in those areas.

By Subject Test

  1. ACT English: The English section is 45 minutes long and the questions all generally take the same amount of time, so you can use an average time. You might find it easiest to go in order unless you struggle with specific problem types. Divide 40 to 43 minutes by the number of questions you will answer. Leave in the remaining few minutes to randomly guess on the remaining questions. More ACT English Strategies
  2. SAT Writing & Language: The Writing & Language section is 35 minutes long and the questions all generally take the same amount of time, so you can use an average time. You might find it easiest to go in order unless you struggle with specific problem types. Divide 30 minutes by the number of questions you will answer. Leave the remaining few minutes to randomly guess on the remaining questions. More Writing & Language Strategies
  3. ACT Math: The Math section is 60 minutes long. Divide 55 minutes by the target number of questions to approximate the average time per question. Leave a few minutes at the end to randomly guess on the remaining questions.More Math Strategies
  4. SAT Math:You will need to calculate times for with and without calculator and fill-in vs. multiple choice. You will have 25 minutes for the 20 questions in the No-Calculator section (15 multiple choice, 5 fill-in). You will have 55 minutes for the 38 questions in the Calculator section (30 multiple choice, 8 fill-in). Leave a few minutes for the end to randomly guess on the multiple choice questions you might not finish but do not spend time guessing on the fill-in questions you do not attempt. More Math Strategies
  5. ACT & SAT Reading: Set a realistic goal for the number of passages you think you can complete to the best of your ability. Plan the order you will complete passages. Some students prefer to start with their area of highest interest. Others prefer to start with the passage that they think will be more challenging so they can get it over with. Given your target number of passages, calculate the average time to spend per passage, allowing for a few minutes at the end to randomly guess on any remaining questions. Next, calculate an average time for reading the passage and an average time per question. Sticking to a schedule and not spending too much time reading or trying to find a key detail is critical to success on the Reading section. If you cannot locate an answer you need, it is important that you allow yourself to guess and move on. More Reading Strategies
  6. ACT Science: Set a realistic goal for the number of passages you think you can complete to the best of your ability. Given your target number of passages, calculate the average time to spend per passage, allowing for a few minutes at the end to randomly guess on any remaining questions. Based on your time allocation above, calculate an average time for reading the passage and an average time per question. Sticking to a schedule and not spending too much time reading or trying to understand a graph is critical to success on the Science section. It is important that you build awareness of when to allow yourself to guess and move on. More Science Strategies
  7. Manage anxiety. A little anxiety can provide the adrenaline to work quickly, but too much will interfere with your efficiency and make it harder to work efficiently. Budget your time assuming you might work a little more slowly on test day if you are very anxious.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Standardized tests are designed to test a student's knowledge while working quickly. It is essential that you find your individual balance of accuracy and speed to show your best work. The best way to do that is to monitor your test taking with a timer, look for patterns in your own performance, and make adjustments. Plan to have a steady, incremental and realistic approach so that you are seeing continuous improvement.