As the January SAT and ACT draw nearer, most test prep courses are wrapping up new material and shifting into review mode. Now is the time to start thinking speeding up your timing and planning your section strategy. Here are some tips to help optimize your studying:
Target your problem areas. Assess where you feel you have potential to improve, and start there. Look at the types of questions you’re getting wrong. Are you consistently getting tripped up in the math sections? Struggling with reading comprehension? Zero in on your less successful points, and spend some extra time reviewing the relevant strategies. Give yourself time to understand the material before timing yourself. You can’t get faster at something you have yet to get the hang of.
As you get more comfortable with the material, pick up your pace gradually. Getting faster doesn’t happen in one fell swoop, and expecting it to will only lead to frustration. If you start rushing to improve your time, you’re likely to start making silly mistakes. Instead, shoot to increase your pace in increments. If your accuracy nosedives, slow down a little. So how do you increase your speed?
Aim for efficiency. It’s better to work smarter than harder. When reading a passage, take the necessary time to understand what you’re reading the first time. If you speed through a passage to “save time,” you’re likely to miss important information the first time around and end up having to revisit it later to understand what’s going on. Instead of doing it once correctly, you’ll lose time jumping back and forth. Worse, the questions might take longer to answer, or your rushed understanding will lead you to wrong answers.
Trust your own judgement before looking at the answers. It’s tempting to jump to the answers to see if things stand out, but you are less likely to be tricked if you have an idea of what to look for. Answering the question independently first can keep you from getting lost in trickily worded answers.
Maximize your points. There is no prize for finishing. Unless you’re aiming for a perfect score, it’s unlikely that you will finish every question correctly. Instead, focus on your strengths. If skipping a long reasoning question gives you time to answer a few questions that you feel more confident in it is worth it. For some people it is more beneficial to to focus on 3 of the 4 reading comprehension passages. Guessing on the forth is always an option, especially if you feel solid in the first three. If you finish the exam at the expense of your accuracy, what was the point? Getting less done correctly is more important than rushing to finish with huge mistakes.
Stay calm. When you stay collected, you move more quickly because there is no wasted effort. Having confidence in your abilities will propel you forward more successfully than rushing.
Getting faster is a challenge and doesn’t happen over night. Practice and review in these next few weeks are key.. When you can understand each question to the extent that you could explain it to someone else, you’re on your way to success, and, will go effortlessly faster.