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How to Manage Your Time on the SAT or ACT

Last updated June 5, 2024

Time management is important when taking the SAT or ACT to ensure you answer all questions to the best of your ability. In this article, we'll teach you how to manage your time on the SAT or ACT!

A young black man wearing a black shirt sits at a desk and looks at a laptop - How to Manage Your Time on the SAT or ACT

General advice for time management on both the SAT and ACT

Bring a silent wristwatch 

While your exam site will have a clock, and your proctor should write the remaining time of each section on a whiteboard, we recommend wearing a traditional, non-digital watch. Both the SAT and ACT allow wristwatches as long as they do not make any noise and don't have any internet or Bluetooth capabilities. Wearing a watch will help you stay on track and answer questions in each section to the best of your ability.

Be familiar with instructions ahead of time

Knowing what to expect ahead of time can put you at ease during the exam. We recommend taking free SAT and ACT practice tests to study and familiarize yourself with instructions and time breakdowns. This can save you valuable time on the day of your exam.

Don’t spend the same amount of time on each question

Some questions and sections will be more difficult than others. Try answering the easiest questions, or the questions you're most familiar with, first before spending a bit more time on the harder ones. 

Use all the time you’re given

If you finish all the questions in a section with time left to spare, go back and check your answers. Pay close attention to any questions where you made educated guesses. You may be able to eliminate another answer or two, further increasing your chances of success.

Strategies for the SAT

Be familiar with the SAT's structure

The SAT is now digital. Here's what to know about how the digital SAT is structured:

Reading & Writing Section

  • Duration: 64 minutes
  • Structure: This section is divided into two modules, each lasting 32 minutes. There are 54 questions in total. Questions focus on comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, synthesis, and reasoning skills.

Math Section

  • Duration: 70 minutes
  • Structure: This section is divided into two modules, each lasting 35 minutes. There are 44 questions in total. Questions focus on algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, and some advanced math concepts. Some questions require students to enter answers, while others are multiple-choice.

There is a 10-minute break between the Reading & Writing and Math sections. The total duration of the digital SAT is 2 hours and 14 minutes. 

Managing your time on the Reading & Writing Section

It's recommended to spend around 1 minute and 11 seconds on each question. Keep track of time using the digital countdown clock. Answer the easiest questions first and mark difficult ones with the digital flagging function to revisit later if you have time. Take advantage of digital annotations to highlight important information and notes directly on reading passages. 

Managing your time on the Math Section

It's recommended to spend around 1 minute and 35 seconds on each question. Keep track of time using the digital countdown clock. Double-check your answer if you finish a question early, but try to avoid spending too much time on a single question. While the exam is digital, it can also be helpful to use scratch paper for harder calculations and equations. 

Strategies for the ACT

Be familiar with the ACT's structure

English Section

  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Structure: This section contains 75 multiple-choice questions covering grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills. 

Math Section

  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Structure: This section contains 60 multiple-choice questions covering Algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry.

Reading Section

  • Duration: 35 minutes
  • Structure: This section contains 40 multiple-choice questions that assess reading comprehension in fiction, science, and humanities passages.

Science Section

  • Duration: 35 minutes
  • Structure: This section contains 40 multiple-choice questions that evaluate scientific reasoning skills through data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints passages​.

(Optional) Writing Section

  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Structure: The student essay written in this section measures writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college courses.

There is a 10-minute break between the Math and Reading Sections. If you take the optional Writing Section, there is an additional 5-minute break between the Science and Writing Sections. The total duration of the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you take the exam with the optional Writing Section, the total duration of the exam is 3 hours and 35 minutes.

Managing your time on the English Section

With only 45 minutes to answer 75 questions, it's recommended that you answer a question every 30 seconds. Give yourself eight minutes per passage (five total) to keep track of time. If you maintain this pace, you’ll get through this section with five minutes to spare.

Use the questions to inform how you read each passage

This means you should read a question before looking for its answer within a passage. This will decrease the amount of re-reading you have to do and help prevent confusion.

Plug in answers to see if they make sense

Correct answers in the English section will usually have a straightforward meaning and clear sentence structure, so if you plug in A, B, C or D, and only A seems to provide a clear, grammatically correct meaning, that’s most likely your answer.

Managing your time on the Math Section

The key to the math section of the ACT is time management. Focus first on the questions you feel most confident about answering. Answering easy-medium difficulty questions first will help you preserve time for more challenging questions.

Managing your time on the Reading Section

Time management is essential during this part of the exam. Skip around this section to tackle the passages you feel most comfortable with first. This way, if you end up running out of time, you’ll have completed the sections you’re most likely to get correct answers in.

Managing your time on the Science Section

Unlike the reading section, questions in the science section will almost always direct you to a specific part of the passage. Don't read the whole passage unless absolutely necessary to answer the questions. Some passages will require you to comprehend the entire passage and draw conclusions to answer some questions, so be sure to answer those last.

Save the Conflicting Viewpoints passages for the end 

The Conflicting Viewpoints passages include two short essays with differing points of view. Be sure to save these passages for the very end with at least 5 minutes to spend on them. If you only have three minutes or less when you get to this section, we recommend jumping straight to the questions and skimming passages to answer them as best you can.

Managing your time on the optional Writing Section

This section will give you one writing prompt that describes a complex issue and presents three different perspectives on it. You will need to thoroughly read the prompt and write an essay that shows your perspective on the issue and how it compares or contrasts from the perspectives given in the prompt. You can agree or disagree with any of the perspectives, or completely make up your own.

We recommend writing both your introduction and conclusion paragraphs first before diving into your body paragraphs. While your body paragraphs will contain the most important information, having your introduction and conclusion paragraphs done first will help you structure your essay and the points you want to make within it. You should spend somewhere between 5-10 minutes on both the introduction and conclusion. Be sure to pace yourself to avoid forgetting to write about important points or arguments you want to make.

Need some extra study support for the SAT or ACT? Click here to check out our list of free study resources, or text #Hello to 33-55-77 to speak with one of our college advisors! If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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