By Ryan Hickey
It seems like a no-brainer that you’d want to have as much time as possible to take a test like the SAT. You wouldn’t have to worry about the stress of a timer, and you could go back and check your work to ensure your answers made sense. As long as you budget your time effectively, shouldn’t you be slow and methodical? Wouldn't you score higher on the SAT? Some would agree, but definitely not all.
Here's a look at the duel between the tortoise and the hare when it comes to the SAT.
The Strength of the Tortoise
Many people agree that slow and steady is the way to a higher score on the SAT. In fact, they take it a step further and complain that the timed element of the SAT is unnecessary, unfair, and simply a function of convenience for The College Board, the governing body of the SAT.
A website called Fair Test has many articles on how and why standardized tests present bias, and how timing plays a factor in this. Howard Gardener, professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard, spoke out about this timing discussion, saying that timed tests assess “speed and glibness” rather than actual scholarship. Allowances are made for any student who can demonstrate a disability, but everyone else—including those who may simply have less skill in quickness than others—is forced to comply to the timer.
The Strength of the Hare
Ever spend a long time picking a shirt to wear or a movie to watch, just to go back to your first instinct? Blink, a book by Malcolm Gladwell, offers evidence that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones.
It’s a technique he calls “thin-slicing,” which is the act of assessing information quickly. His general thesis is that our first instinct is usually the correct one, and time pondering the decision is time spent second guessing ourselves, ultimately leading to the wrong choices. He calls having too much time to think “analysis paralysis,” and provides a number of instances as to why this phenomenon is so damaging.
The College Board agrees with this advice. In a comprehensive paper, “The Impact of Extended Time on SAT Test Performance,” the authors report that additional time provided “little or no advantage to low-ability students” and that “too much [time] may be detrimental.”
Who Wins the Race? The Tortoise or the Hare?
Gladwell qualifies his “thin-slicing” idea by saying that in order to make the best spontaneous decisions, it’s important to already have expertise—that is, to build unconscious intelligence, which is a tortoise's pursuit. He is well known for a quote from another one of his books, Outliers, that says it takes someone 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. TEN THOUSAND. That's the equivalent of working 8 hours a day for 3.5 years. Expertise is what makes it possible to develop your unconscious intelligence to the point where the answers you choose instinctively are also the correct ones. So what should you do? There's no way you can put in 10,000 hours to become an SAT expert! Perhaps not, but you can improve your familiarity with the kinds of questions on the test so you'll have immediate and correct answers already at your fingertips.
And then when you take the test, make like a hare:
- Take the test as quickly as you feel comfortable.
- Assess each multiple choice question in turn, and keep moving forward. If you come across a question that needs more thought, skip it so that you can circle back if you have time at the end.
- During the test, don’t spend too much time on any one question. Remember that each question is worth the same point value. Get the easy ones right and come back for the toughies.
- Practice as much as possible beforehand. The more you train, the more you can be sure you’ll be able to take questions at a solid pace without ever having to stress about a ticking clock.
Score Higher on the SAT
If you're not planning on becoming an SAT expert, browse quickly through this list and learn the five rules to break to improve your SAT score.