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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!

Want to join the conversation?

  • mr pink red style avatar for user Dev Patel
    my test is in may. i keep getting a 740 on math, but my Reading and Writing scores are all over the place. Although I ace the practice the SAT dashboard gives me for R & W, I always seem to get between 620 and 690. I can't get above a 700. The college I want to go to requires a 1460 to 1580 range, and I really want to go there. How can I raise my reading and writing score? Are there any other strategies besides the 2 pass rule and the ones on Khan Academy? How can I improve my score while under crunch time?
    (103 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user abbyd517
    If you are down to your last couple minutes and you still have questions left to answer is it better to fill in a random bubble or just leave it blank?
    (17 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user laura hown
      Try to fill in every bubble. If you leave it blank you will have a zero percent chance to get it right, if you guess you have a chance. Also with this new version, there are no points taken off for wrong answers, so guessing can only help. Good luck!
      (86 votes)
  • leafers sapling style avatar for user 18-eilish.dillon
    Is there any specific strategies I should take if I am a very slow reader?
    (18 votes)
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  • duskpin seedling style avatar for user marjiance52
    How do you deal with questions like "What is the general idea of the passage?", or "What did you feel about reading the story?" with little time left? In the actual test, should I focus on these questions first or last?
    (16 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Tiger Yu
      Main idea questions should be dealt after all other questions on the corresponding passage are answered. For twin passages, these questions should be dealt with after other questions on the corresponding passage (not the ones that asks you about both passages) are answered. Saving main idea questions for last makes these questions much easier to answer.
      (49 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user dylanlmccowan
    I have taken the SAT 7 times, and have my very last opportunity in two weeks to get 10 more points. Last test I took I got a 1290 and I need a 1300 for merit scholarships for the school I am going to. I struggle with the math section mainly, and literally only need 10 more points. I have been watching all of the Khan videos and practicing every day, and I am stressing out. Any advice for me to get those last 10 points?? Thank you.
    (11 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user kendra
      You say that you struggle with math, and you only need to get 10 more points for you to be satisfied with your score and get the scholarships. What if you focused on raising your English/Reading score instead of trying to raise your math score?
      I took the ACT in December, and had a really hard time with the math section. The reading and writing sections weren't too hard for me, so I wasn't worried about those. For several months before my test, I did hours of math prep every week, hoping to raise my score. However, I also reviewed some tips about the reading and writing sections, as well as doing some practice problems and tests. In the end, my math score was acceptable, but if I hadn't done some reading and writing practice to raise my score in those sections, I wouldn't have gotten the score that I needed.
      That being said, it might be helpful to you if you tried to improve your reading/writing scores, instead of focusing so much on math. Obviously, you will still need a fairly good math score, but if reading/writing is more your strong suit, then it will be easier for you to raise your score in those sections.
      Does this make sense to you? Best of luck on your test!
      (61 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Sanjay Ajayan
    I read the questions first and then the paragraph ... this works for most questions but does not for some ... in the end i end up out of time ... What do i do ?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user 2025942
    Im really nervous about the SAT's because I am really bad at math. When i take the practice tests on Kahn Academy i still do bad and I am really scared. Is their any tips on how to do well on the math section. I take my SAT in May
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Viraj Gandhi
      With that attitude you will definitly not do well in math. As someone who really sucked at math, but then improved, let me tell you some tips. First, take a practice test in Math only. If you need help in reading, then do that. after going over the practice test, then categorize what problems you miss. (If you have old tests for math, go back group the mistakes together. for example you see that you miss most in algebra, review the basics via khan Academy). Then comes the worst part. Go back to the tests in math and re do the problems to until you find how to do the answer, look it up if needed. Then do that process for all the categories you have problem. From my experience, this is a great skill to learn, practice. And if you do what i said, you will reap benefits, like doing better in math or any classes. During that, take breaks, make bullet points of what you learned (if time allows). Finally keep a positive attitude. On the day before the test, learn to focus. Because half of the time, many people make mistakes due hurrying or misreading the question. So focus. Goodluck on your test. Keep a positive attitide, focus, go at your own pace, and may the odds be ever in your favor. :)
      (30 votes)
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Vera  Ataa Boatemaa
    how can increase your reading speed
    (4 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Legendari
      The ability to read over a piece of text efficiently is a skill that greatly impacts your SAT readiness. Reading is essentially the ability to recognize groups of letters to formulate meaningful words that make up sentences/ideas. If you want to increase your reading speed, practice grouping certain parts of text together. It might help to read more complicated texts when preparing for the SAT. Time yourself with different parts of the text. This type of practice will train your brain to instantly recognize certain groups of letters as words, and ultimately, quickly recognize groups of words. Another important skill is to be able to evaluate whether or not a part of the text is even important to answering the given questions. If you are able to recognize that you are reading a redundant section of text, than you can skip it and save time. This also requires a lot of practice, but reading the questions before even attempting to read the text helps with this. Hope this was helpful! Good luck!
      (6 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user oyefesobasit
    Is it advised to do the theory part before the multiple choice in the math section?
    (9 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user aashu patel
    I am a freshman, and I have been practicing for my SAT coming up in a few years. I am worried because my scores keep on fluctuating. Sometimes, I get a 780 on my math, and other times, I get 670. Can you please help?
    (3 votes)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user Angela S
      Hey! The last thing a High School freshman should worry about is the SATs. The only exception that I can think of is if you're graduating early. But even then, you still have more than enough time. Think about it, you probably only completed close to 10 HS credits (give or take some) and you haven't been exposed to all/majority of the topics that will on the test. Just make sure you get good grades and become involved in extracurricular activities. Once the summer before Junior year rolls around, I definitely would advise you to start studying for your SATs (unless you're graduating early, if so start sometime in sophomore year). Enjoy the freedom you have now before you get more things on your plate in 11th and 12th grade. Best of luck to you! :)
      (14 votes)