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How Much Time Should You Spend Per Question?

Each Question Is Worth the Same, So Spend Your Time Where It's Likely to Do the Most Good
In the The SAT Is Not Like Your School Tests, we discussed some of the differences between your school tests and the SAT. Your test-taking habits have formed over years of taking school tests, and many of these habits hurt your performance on the SAT. One habit in particular gets in the way on the SAT, and that's the habit of spending more time on harder questions and less time on easier ones. That strategy makes sense on school tests since harder questions generally count for a lot more than easier ones. But that strategy is disastrous on the SAT.

Here's what most students do on the SAT. They rush through the easy questions. The questions are easy, after all, and they're trying to finish. They slow down a bit when they get to the medium questions; the questions are getting harder, after all. Then they slow down to a crawl on the most difficult questions. In other words, most students spend the most amount of time on the questions they're least likely to answer correctly!

Since easy, medium, and difficult questions are all worth the same amount, on which type should you spend the most amount of time? Before you answer that question, let's consider an analogy from basketball. Let's say that an easy shot is a couple feet away from the basket, that a medium shot is from the free-throw line area, and a difficult shot is from somewhere in the middle of the court. Now, on which of these three shots would it make the most sense to spend time taking careful aim?

I hope you said the medium shot. It doesn't make sense to spend a lot of time on an easy shot, does it? You don't want to be reckless, of course, but you don't want to be overcautious either. On the other hand, it doesn't make much sense to spend a lot of time on a hard shot, either. Spending time is most likely to make a difference in making the medium shot.

The same principle applies to the SAT. You want to spend the most amount of time on the medium questions, and the least amount of time on the difficult questions. To use another analogy, jog on the easy questions, walk—or crawl—on the medium questions, and sprint on the hard questions. You'll either be able to get a hard SAT question quickly,or you'll probably not get it at all.

Moving slowly during the easy and medium questions on the SAT, and speeding up on the hard questions, runs counter to every test-taking instinct in your body. You'll need to practice this tempo consciously at every opportunity so that it becomes second nature. It helps to remember that easy questions are just as valuable as hard questions. If you want to get a high score, you can't afford to miss any easy questions because you can't be as confident that you'll get all the hard ones.

From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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