As we said earlier, the questions on the SAT II Math IIC are organized from least to most difficult: the basic material appears near the beginning, and the advanced topics show up at the end. You can always have a sense of what is awaiting you later on in the test. Use this information. Part of your job is to make sure you don’t spend too much time on the easiest questions. Don’t put 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.
True, 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 look at every single question on the test. Note that we said “look at” every question on the test. We didn’t say “answer” every question on the test. There is a very big difference between the two.
It is unlikely that you will be able to answer every question on the test. Some questions will stump you, completely resisting your efforts to eliminate even one possible answer choice. 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, it’s quite possible that you could have used that same time to answer six other questions that would have vastly increased your score. Instead of getting bogged down in individual questions, you will do better if you learn to skip, and leave for later, the very difficult questions that you either can’t answer or that will take an extremely long time to answer.
By perfecting your pacing on practice tests, you can make sure that you will see every question on the test. And this way, you can select which questions you will and won’t answer, rather than running out of time before reaching the end of the test. You’re no longer allowing the test to decide, by default, which questions you won’t answer.
There are a few simple rules that, if followed, will make pacing yourself much easier.
  • Make sure not to get bogged down in any one question.
  • Answer every question to which you know the answer, and make an educated guess for every question in which you can quickly eliminate at least one answer choice.
  • Skip questions that 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 even coming up with an educated guess. Mark the question in some way to indicate that it is very difficult. Return to it 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 that you want. So, what score do you want to get? Obviously, you should strive for the best score possible, but be realistic: consider how much you know about math and how well you do in general 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 680? A 740? 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 is of a student going to 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 before:
You will get:
  • 800 if you answered 44 right, 4 wrong, and left 2 blank
  • 750 if you answered 40 right, 8 wrong, and left 2 blank
  • 700 if you answered 35 right, 8 wrong, and left 7 blank
  • 650 if you answered 30 right, 12 wrong, and left 8 blank
  • 600 if you answered 25 right, 16 wrong, and left 9 blank
So let’s say the average score for the SAT II Math IIC for the school you want to attend is a 700. You should set your target at about 750. Looking at this chart, you can see that in order to get that score, you need to get 40 questions right, can get 8 wrong, and can leave 2 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 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 to 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 about how to take the test and the subjects it 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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