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Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
Good pacing allows you to take the test, rather than letting the test take you. As we said earlier, the questions on SAT II Writing are not organized by difficulty. You are as likely to come upon a question you can answer at the end of the test as 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 near the end of the test that you could have answered if only you had more 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 therefore letting the test decide, by default, which questions you won’t answer.
In large part, pacing yourself entails putting into practice the strategies we’ve already discussed:
  • Make sure not to get bogged down on one single question. If you find yourself wasting time on one 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 for every question for 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 also be realistic: consider how much you know about writing and how well you do on SAT-type tests. You should also consider what exactly defines a good score at the colleges to which you’re applying: a 620? 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. You should also find out the average score of students 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 this chart we showed you before.
Score Multiple-choice right Multiple-choice wrong Blank Essay score
800 55 2 3 12
800 58 2 0 11
750 55 4 1 10
700 52 5 3 10
650 48 6 6 10
600 42 8 10 10
550 36 9 15 8
So let’s say the average score for SAT II Writing 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 48 questions right. You can get 6 questions wrong and leave 6 questions blank. You also need to get a 10 on the essay.
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 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 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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