11 September 2011

Take more time than you think you need

Disclaimer: if you always finish right at time or are forced to leave a couple of questions blank because you just couldn’t get to them, this article does not apply to you. For the rest of you, but especially the ones who finish sections with five or ten minutes left over and aren’t scoring consistent 800s on them, slow down!

And when I say “slow down,” I don’t just mean “stop racing.” I mean give yourself the time you need to fully process each question, determine exactly what it requires, work through every step of the problem, and make sure you’re choosing the answer you actually intended to choose. If you think you need an extra five seconds, take ten instead. If you’re finishing 24-question sections in 20 minutes rather than 25, that gives you about 12.5 extra seconds per question to play around with. Assuming that you won’t really need all those extra seconds for some of the easier questions, you can probably spend up to 20 or 30 more seconds on the couple of hardest ones.

Working this way can be scary: it forces you to stop going on instinct (and hoping that you get lucky) and actually prove the answer before you pick it. It means you can’t justify a wrong answer by saying that you had to guess because you were afraid you’d run out of time (even though you were finishing with ten minutes to spare). It means you have to be really, really careful.

But here’s the thing: it works. If you’re scoring 650 Reading and are trying to break 700, chances are you need to be a little more meticulous. Slowing down, making sure that you really consider whether there’s one word in an answer choice that doesn’t quite work, going back to the passage to check things out… that might just be enough to get you there.

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