8 Ways to Improve Your Speed on the SAT/ACT
If you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for a quick-fix, so let’s cut to the chase:
1. Use a dull pencil
I’m serious. A dull pencil = more surface area covered more quickly. If you’re anything like me, you love the feel of a freshly sharpened pencil and the look of a well-filled scantron bubble. But all that exhaustive, perfectly even bubbling is a waste of time.
2. Cross out incorrect answers
With that dull pencil, cross out answer choices in your test booklet as you eliminate them. You may be sure that you’ll remember that A is incorrect, but do not ask your brain to keep that in mind. If you know it’s wrong, leave a physical reminder so that you can devote all of your mental energy to landing the correct answer.
3. Circle answers first, then bubble in your scantron one test page at a time
This method allows you to focus on a single batch of questions without having to refocus from the booklet to the scantron. It also builds in short mental breaks, and it reduces the risk of making the major mistake of mis-bubbling one answer in a long string of thirty or more questions at a time.
4. Skip the hard stuff on a first pass
Feeling stumped? Move on. Come back to it later. No one question on the ACT or SAT is worth more than another, so you’re doing yourself no favors by stubbornly digging into one question at the cost of getting to others. Knock out all those questions you know, then revisit the difficult questions.
5. Locate line-specific questions before reading the passage
Locate which questions require information from a specific line or series of lines. Have a given question in mind as you read the passage. Then answer that question while the information is fresh. But make sure to double-check your answer after finishing the passage; sometimes, the context of the entire passage can help.
6. Practice, and time yourself by individual passages
You want to practice at the correct pace. Always work within the time limits allowed for each section. Set multiple timers—one for the section you’re working on and another for individual passages. For example, when taking the SAT Reading Test, make sure to set one timer for 65 minutes and another for five 13-minute segments (that’s how long you have on average for each of the five passages).
7. Practice some more
You need to consciously understand the content and skills tested on these tests, and you need to unconsciously know their pacing. The only way to absorb the tempo of the tests is to practice actual tests early and often.
8. Get smart...
...by reading regularly and widely and practicing math problems often. For many, the SAT and ACT can be very intimidating. Get ahead of these tests by making reading, writing, and math into everyday activities.
The most effective method for improving your speed on standardized tests is to enter them with a deep well of knowledge, experience, and confidence.