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:
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.