jump to navigation

SAT math pacing plan examples June 2, 2010

Posted by Jason McDonald in : SAT tips , trackback

If you haven’t already taken an SAT practice test, take one before reading this section. Use the score from your practice test or from an official SAT as a baseline. Add 50 points to this score in each section — this is your target score. This target score should be realistic and attainable.

As you may already know (if not, be sure to sign up for my free five-day e-tips), you should not answer all the questions if you want to maximize your math score.  You’ll only have to answer nearly all of the questions if you’re realistically shooting for 750-800.  If that’s the case, you’re pacing is great; go study some time-saving math strategies!

So, how long should you spend on each problem?  Long enough so that you get 75 to 90 percent of the ones you spend time on correct.  At what point should you circle a question in your booklet and move on?  The actual time cap per problem depends on your target score.  Let’s do a couple examples:

Pacing Plan Example 1:

Jimmy Dean took the SAT and scored 410 in math.  His target score for the next practice test should be 460 (410 + 50).  How many questions should Jimmy omit in the 20-question section?  On average, how long should he spend on each problem?  What should his time cap be per problem?

Let’s start with a few relevant rows pulled from the pacing table in Day 1 of the free five-day e-tips:

Target
Score  (800 possible)
Attempt this many
questions (54 possible)
Accuracy on attempted questions Omit this fraction of section
400 17 75 % 2/3
450 28 75 % 3/5
500 29 90 % 1/2

How many questions should Jimmy omit in the 20-question section? From the middle row above, Jimmy should omit 3/5 of problems in each section.  For the 20-question section he should omit 12 questions (3/5 of 20) and focus on 8.  Notice he would NOT omit three questions, do two, omit three, do two, etc.  It would be better for him to omit 12 trickier and time-consuming questions.  In other words, he should pick his eight problems to focus on from the first half or two-thirds of the test.

On average, how long should he spend on each problem? There are 70 minutes to complete 28 problems.  This gives an average of 2.5 minutes per problem (70 ÷ 28).

What should his time cap be per problem? Jimmy doesn’t have to limit himself to the average time on every problem.  Many problems will take less than half the average, so it’s ok if several problems take 1.5 times the average, or about 3.5 minutes in Jimmy’s case.

Pacing Plan Example 2:

Jimmy’s sister Jane took the PSAT and scored 59 in math (projected to 590 for the SAT).  Her target score for the next practice test should be 640 (590 + 50).  How many questions should Jane omit in the 16-question section?  On average, how long should she spend on each problem?  What should her time cap be per problem?

Again, we’ll start with a few relevant rows pulled from the pacing table:

Target
Score (800 possible)
Attempt this many
questions (54 possible)
Accuracy on attempted questions Omit this fraction of section
600 43 90 % 1/5
650 48 92 % 1/10
700 51 95 % 1/20

How many questions should Jane omit in the 16-question section? From the middle row above, Jane should omit 1/10 of problems in each section. For a 16-question section she would omit one or two questions (1/10 of 16 = 1.6). It would be better for her to omit the trickier and time-consuming questions. In other words, she should skip one or two of the questions towards the end of the section.

On average, how long should she spend on each problem? There are 70 minutes to complete 48 problems. This gives an average of 1.5 minutes per problem (70 ÷ 48).

What should her time cap be per problem? Jane doesn’t have to limit herself to the average time on every problem. Many problems will take less than half the average, so it’s ok if several problems take 1.5 times the average, or a little more than 2 minutes (1.5 × 1.5 = 2.25).

Summary

The number of problems you attempt as well as the time you allow for each problem depends on your target score.  From the above examples, Jane needs to omit 1/10 problems while Jimmy needs to omit 6/10!  Jane can’t afford to spend 2.5 minutes on any problem, while Jimmy should spend 2.5 minutes on most problems he attempts or else he’ll bomb them!

Some Common Pacing Questions

So, will I actually have time on the test to do the above calculations?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!  You need to develop your pacing plan now on practice tests so it’s second nature when you take the “real deal.”

While I’m taking my test should I glance at my watch before every problem so I know when it’s been 2 minutes?

For your next practice test, the answer is yes.  But after that, you’ll have a sense of when it’s time to circle a question and move on without looking at your watch for each problem.

Why only add 50 points to my most recent score?  If Jimmy’s last test score was 410, why shouldn’t he shoot for 600?

It’s not realistic for him to score 600 by pacing alone.  This entire pacing topic is based on how to increase your score without even learning any new math concepts or strategies!  Once Jimmy maximizes his score through pacing (the easiest, quickest way to improve his score), then he can review some essential SAT math skills and learn some SAT math strategies to increase his score even further.  It’s possible for Jimmy to improve to 600, but only by learning new strategies, skills and adjusting his pacing as his score improves.

Don’t stop now

Now that you know how to figure out your optimal pacing plan, take a few minutes to answer the following questions for your next math practice SAT exam:

What is YOUR target math score? (add 50 points to your last math score)

How many questions should you omit in the 8-question, 10-question, 16-question, and 20-question sections? Reminder: the 8 and 10-question sections are the multiple-choice and grid-in subsections of the 18-question section. Each has its own order of difficulty even though the numbering doesn’t start over!

On average, how long should you spend on each problem?

What should your time cap be per problem?

If you figure out the answers the above four questions, and more importantly, follow that pacing plan, you’re sure to score higher than your last test.

Comments»

1. Jason McDonald - July 17, 2012

Thanks! I often fall in that possessive trap. Appreciate it!

2. Darlene House - July 17, 2012

How many questions should you omit in the 8-question, 10-question, 16-question, and 20-question sections? Reminder: the 8 and 10-question sections are the multiple-choice and grid-in subsections of the 18-question section. Each has it’s own order of difficulty even though the numbering doesn’t start over!

Note the last sentence. it’s = it is

3. Jason McDonald - December 31, 2010

I’m confident I can help your son raise his score significantly. Unfortunately, I have a wait list for private tutoring right now. My availability can change over night though so let me know if you’d like to get on that list. I DO have a few spots open for the premium member area and I bet we can get his score 50% higher within a month if he’s willing to do what I suggest. Money back if not. I imagine we can double some of his original scores by March.

4. desperately seeking HELP - December 30, 2010

oops…
200 – reading
270 – math
270 – writing

:(

5. desperately seeking HELP - December 30, 2010

HELP…
my son took the SAT back in October and scored very very very low… 740 :(

200 – reading
270 – math
270 – math

he’s taking a SAT test prep course next month thru february for the SAT in march…

any suggestion would be GREATLY appreciated!

6. Jason McDonald - November 29, 2010

Hi Janay,

Nice stats! Hitting 600 in CR and writing should be no problem if you dedicate a couple hours to learning strategies. A gain of 100 points in math is possible but will take a lot more work and definitely challenging in the 5 days before your test. Sign up for my premium member area and I’ll personally guide you through the process and answer your questions as you go.

7. Janay - November 29, 2010

Okay, on my first SAT i received a 1460
CR:530
Math:450
Writing:480
On my second attempt, I received a 1650
CR:570
Math:500
Writing:580
I retake it for one last time this Saturday, what should I do to try to achieve at least a 600 in each section? Is it possible? I really want to attend Florida State University and since I am out of state, I have to have excellent scores. I have a 3.8 out of 4.0 GPA, in the top 10% of my class, and I am heavily involved in extra curricular activities. Please help me.