Pacing: The Key to Scoring Well
Pacing: The Key to Scoring Well
Good pacing allows you to take the test, rather than letting the test take you. As we said earlier, the questions on the SAT II U.S. History test are not organized by difficulty or time period. You are as likely to come upon a question you can answer at the end of the test as you are at the beginning. As you take the test, part of your job is to make sure that you don’t miss out on answering those questions at the end that you could have answered if you’d only had the time.
By perfecting your pacing on practice tests, you can make sure that you will see every question on the test. And if you see every question on the test, then you can select which questions you will and won’t answer, rather than running out of time before reaching the end of the test and letting the test decide, by default, which questions you won’t answer.
Much of good pacing entails putting into practice the strategies we’ve already discussed:
  • Don’t get bogged down on one question. If you find yourself wasting time on a question, circle it, move on, and come back to it later.
  • Answer every question you know the answer to, and make an educated guess for every question in which you can quickly eliminate at least one answer choice.
Learning to pace yourself is a crucial part of your preparation for the test. Students who know how to pace themselves take the test on their own terms. Students who don’t know how to pace themselves enter the test already one step behind.
Setting a Target Score
You can make the job of pacing yourself much easier if you go into the test knowing how many questions you have to answer correctly in order to earn the score you want. So, what score do you want? Obviously, you should strive for the best score possible, but be realistic: consider how much you know about U.S. History and how well you do, generally, on SAT-type tests. You should also consider what exactly defines a good score at the colleges to which you’re applying: is it a 620? a 680? Talk to the admissions offices of the colleges you might want to attend, do a little research in college guidebooks, or talk to your guidance counselor.
No matter how you do it, you should find out what the average score of a student going to the schools you want to attend is. Take that number and set your target score above it (you want to be above average, right?). Then take a look at this chart we showed you before.
You will get:
Score Right answers Wrong answers Blank answers
800 83 5 2
750 74 8 8
700 66 12 15
650 59 16 15
600 52 20 18
550 44 24 22
So let’s say the average score for the SAT II U.S. History, for the school you want to attend, is a 600. You should set your target at about 650. Looking at this chart, you can see that to get that score, you need to get 59 questions right, can absorb getting 16 wrong, and can leave 15 questions blank.
If you know all these numbers going into the test, you can pace yourself accordingly. You should use practice tests to teach yourself the proper pace, increasing your speed if you find that you aren’t getting to answer all the questions you need to, or decreasing your pace if you find that you’re rushing and making careless mistakes. If you reach your target score during preparation, give yourself a cookie or some other tasty treat and take a break for the day. But just because you hit your target score doesn’t mean you should stop working altogether. In fact, you should view reaching your target score as a clue that you can do better than that score: set a new target to 50–100 points above your original, and work to pick up your pace a little bit and skip fewer questions.
By working to improve in manageable increments, you can slowly work up to your top speed, integrating your new knowledge of how to take the test and the subjects the test covers without overwhelming yourself by trying to take on too much too soon. If you can handle working just a little faster without becoming careless and losing points, your score will certainly go up. If you meet your new target score again, repeat the process.
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