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
- 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.
- 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
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.