Pacing: The Key to Scoring Well
Pacing: The Key to Scoring Well
As we said earlier, the questions on the SAT II Math IC Test are organized from least to most difficult, with the basic material covered near the beginning and the advanced topics at the end. Make sure you don’t spend too much time on the easiest questions, putting yourself in the position of having to leave blank those questions near the end of the test that you could have answered if only you had more time.
Answering 50 math questions in 60 minutes is not the easiest of tasks, but if you learn how to pace yourself, you should be able to at least look at every single question on the test. Note that we said “look at” every question, we didn’t say “answer.”
It is unlikely that you will be able to answer every question on the test. Some questions will stump you completely. Others might demand so much of your time that answering them becomes more trouble than it’s worth. While taking five minutes to solve a particularly difficult question might strike you as a moral victory when you’re taking the test, you could have used that same time to answer six other questions that would have vastly increased your score. Instead of getting bogged down on individual questions, you will do better if you learn to skip, and leave for later, the very difficult questions either that you can’t answer or that will take an extremely long time to solve.
By perfecting your pacing on practice tests, you can make sure that you will see every question on the test, letting you choose which questions you will and will not answer, rather than running out of time before reaching the end of the test.
There are a few simple rules that will make pacing yourself much easier.
  • Don’t get bogged down on one single question. If you find yourself wasting time on a question, circle it, move on, and come back to it later.
  • Answer every question for which you know the answer, and make an educated guess on every question for which you can quickly eliminate at least one answer choice.
  • Skip questions in which the question and answers refer to concepts completely foreign to you. If you look at the question and answers and have no idea what topics they cover, you have little chance of making an educated guess. Mark the question in some way to indicate it is very difficult. Return to this type of question only if you have answered everything else. Remember to skip that line on your answer sheet!
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 math and how well you usually do on SAT-type tests. You should also consider what exactly defines a good score at the colleges you’re applying to: is it a 620? A 680? Talk to their admissions offices, do a little research in college guidebooks, or talk to your guidance counselor. You should also find out the average scores of students already at the schools you want to attend. Take that number and set your target score above it (you want to be above average, right?). Then take a look at the chart we showed you earlier.
You’ll get:
  • 780 if you answered 49 right, 0 wrong, and left 1 blank
  • 740 if you answered 46 right, 0 wrong, and left 4 blank
  • 700 if you answered 43 right, 4 wrong, and left 3 blank
  • 650 if you answered 39 right, 8 wrong, and left 3 blank
  • 600 if you answered 35 right, 8 wrong, and left 7 blank
So let’s say the average score for SAT II Math IC for the school you want to attend is a 600, and you set your target at about 650. According to the chart, you can get 39 questions right, get 8 wrong, leave 3 questions blank, and still achieve your target score.
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 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 50-100 points above your original, and work to pick up your pace a little bit and skip fewer questions.
By improving your score in manageable increments, you can slowly work up to your top speed, integrating your new knowledge of the test and how to take it without overwhelming yourself. 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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