Guide to SAT Pacing


General Tips

  • Keep one eye on the clock -- but not both! It’s important to know how much time you have left remaining in a section, but checking the clock after every question can waste precious seconds and is unnecessary! For the verbal part of the SAT, you should check the time after every passage you finish, and for math, you should check the time every five questions.
  • Don’t leave any question blank. Although the prior version of the SAT penalized incorrect answers, the new version has no such penalty. If you have a minute or two left on the test and several questions left unanswered, pick a letter and fill in all unanswered questions with it.


There are two parts to the SAT’s math section:

  • Calculator Portion: 38 questions, 55 minutes (about 1:30 per question)
  • No-Calculator Portion: 20 questions, 25 minutes (1:15 per question)


  • If you’re unsure of how to complete a question in 25-30 seconds, guess, circle it, and move on. The questions do increase in difficulty throughout the test, but chances are you find some math areas easier than others. Make sure that you save enough time by moving quickly past questions that give you too many issues.
  • Apply SAT-specific strategies to solve problems, such as picking numbers and backsolving. The best SAT test-takers know that the SAT math section is not just a straight test of your math knowledge: it’s more a problem-solving test than anything else! Make sure that you take a few seconds to evaluate if straight math is the best way to solve a problem, or if you can use a strategy to significantly shorten the time it takes to answer said problem.
  • Know your calculator! Sure, you might be able to borrow a calculator from someone before your test, but it pays to have your calculator packed and ready to go the night before your test: you don’t want to spend seconds looking for the square root sign! Also be sure that you’ve replaced the batteries in your calculator recently: it’d be a nightmare for your calculator to go dead during the exam!
  • With that said, beware its overuse. Although there are many "brute-force" methods to solve a problem on the SAT with calculator use, many problems can be solved in half the time if you think about how to solve it for a few seconds. Make sure to consider the best way to solve the problem before reaching for the calculator!


The reading test is structured as: 

  • 65 minutes for 52 questions (about 1:15 per question)


  • Know the content of each passage, and do the ones you like most first. You want to make sure you have time to complete the passages in topics you’re most familiar with. There are five types of passages on the SAT:
      • One fiction passage, taken from a short story or novel - 10 questions
      • Two passages OR one passage and one set of paired passages based in Science - 10-11 questions each
      • Two passages OR one passage and one set of paired passages based in History - 10-11 questions each
  • If a passage seems tough to understand from the first paragraph, skip it. You don’t want to spend a lot of time in the middle of a section attempting to understand a passage: save it for the end so you make sure you spend enough time on the other passages.
  • Do your best to answer every question associated with a passage before moving on to another passage. If you skip questions from passage to passage, you’ll most likely have to go back and reread parts of the passage associated with the question or questions you skipped, which takes more time. Take your best guess and come back if time allows!


The Writing test is composed of:

  • 44 questions in 35 minutes (a little over 45 seconds per question)


  • Pace yourself per passage, not per question. There are four passages in the SAT’s Writing section, each with 11 questions. As mentioned before, if you look at the clock after every question, you’re wasting precious time! You should have the following amounts of time remaining after every passage:
    • 1 passage: 27 minutes
    • 2 passages: 19 minutes
    • 3 passages: 11 minutes
    • 4 passages: 3 minutes (this three minutes will give you time to go back and check for anything you’ve missed)
  • Just like in reading, choose the passage type you’re most comfortable with first. There are three types of passages in the Writing section. These vary not in content, but the way in which they’re written. Make sure to choose the one you know you can handle most easily first:
    • Argument: These take a firm stance on a topic, and provide evidence in strong support on one side of that topic.
    • Narrative Nonfiction: These tell a true story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
    • Informative: These provide information on a topic, much like a Wikipedia article.
  • Answer questions as you read them in the order of the passage. There’s no need to read the passage once before answering the questions: most of the problems will focus on a specific part of the passage, and although context is important, you’ll have enough information to answer the questions in order.


The SAT's Essay is optional, and you are given 50 minutes for it.


  • Don't rush through reading the passage. The passage is 600-750 words, and you should budget 5-7 minutes to read through it. Make sure to read actively: spot the thesis and note connections between paragraphs. Although you might be tempted to write as soon as possible, resist this urge: the more you understand the passage, the easier you'll find points to write about.
  • Spend a few minutes outlining the essay before you start to write. This should take you about 4-5 minutes. Again, it may look like you're wasting time here, but by outlining your essay first, you won't have to worry about thinking of things to write of: you'll already know what you need to write next!
  • Save a few minutes at the end to proofread. If it takes you 10-12 minutes to read through the passage and outline your essay, you'll have about 35 minutes to write it. That should leave you 3-5 minutes to proofread and catch any spelling errors, grammar mistakes, or anything else you want to fix.




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