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SAT Time Management, Part 1: The Two Passes Strategy

If you have trouble finishing sections on the SAT in the time allowed, you're not alone! Here's a strategy that many students find helpful in managing their time on Test Day.

What is the Two Passes Strategy?

The Two Passes Strategy is a method you can use to structure your time strategically while working through a group of questions. It can help to ensure that you don't run out of time before you have had the chance to work on the questions that are easier for you.

Pass One: Pick the lowest-hanging fruit

Go through each group of questions once fairly quickly to answer the questions that are easiest for you. Attempt only those questions that you immediately know how to approach and solve.
  • Reading Test: If you are finding the first paragraph of a passage difficult to understand, consider skipping the entire passage and coming back to it later if time allows. This is called “prioritizing the passages.” Within a set of questions about a passage, skip the hardest questions until you have had a chance to grasp as much of the passage as possible. By the time you circle back to a difficult question after having done the other questions in the set, you may find it easier.
  • Writing and Language Test: If you know from experience that time is tight for you on this part of the SAT, then plan to skip a handful of the questions you are having the most trouble with in each passage and come back to them later if you have time. Always keep in mind that there are easier questions waiting for you towards the end!
  • Math Test: During the first pass, don't spend more than a minute or so on any question. If it's going to take longer, put a big fat circle around it in your test booklet and skip it. Work steadily in this way until you reach the end of the group of questions.
TOP TIP: When skipping questions, some students like to make a tiny little mark to the left of the number of the question on the answer sheet, which reduces the chances of accidentally mis-gridding the next answers.

Pass Two: Pick your battles

This is when you choose which problems to tackle with your remaining time.
  • Reading Test: If you have managed to narrow a few questions down to two choices, it might be a good idea to deal with those now. Remember: the right answer will always have evidence that supports it in the passage. If you find that evidence, you’ve found your answer.
  • Writing and Language Test: Many students find the questions about logical sentence order (eg:to make this paragraph most logical, sentence 3 should be placed...”) to be more time consuming than basic grammar or punctuation questions. Questions that seem like they have two or three parts are also pretty tough (eg:Which choice most effectively sets up a contrast in the paragraph and is most consistent with the info in the rest of the passage”). These are the questions that it may make sense to tackle last of all in a group.
  • Math Test: Prioritize remaining questions in ascending order of difficulty. That is, leave the most difficult questions for last. On the Math Test, go back to the beginning of the sections because that is where the easier questions are likely be found.
In the next article, Time Management Strategies, Part 2: Level of Difficulty, we will build upon the Two Passes Strategy, so check it out!

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