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Never Sacrifice Accuracy for Speed

Strive to be accurate and don't rush when taking the SAT.

Never Sacrifice Accuracy for Speed

In other words, never rush. Never, ever, never, ever, never ever. Repeat after me: I will not rush on the SAT.

Rushing is probably the root cause of most avoidable errors on the SAT. Students race through each section, doing work in their heads, grabbing at any answer that seems right, all in a mad dash to finish every problem. Paradoxically, rushing itself is caused by one of two opposite states of mind: overconfidence or lack of confidence.

The SAT measures how quickly and accurately you read and analyze questions, but it's much harder to be accurate than it is to be fast. In school classes you may impress your teachers and your classmates with your dazzling speed, but on the SAT you don't get extra points for solving questions quickly.

Look, it isn't hard finishing the SAT. Anybody can finish answering every question on the SAT—so long as he or she doesn't mind making mistakes, possibly many mistakes. I know that it's not easy being a tortoise; it's much cooler being a hare. Fast and clever are cool; slow and methodical are boring. But as in Aesop's fable, the slow and accurate tortoise will outscore the clever but careless hare any day of the week, I promise you.

How can you tell whether you've rushed on the SAT? Well, one infallible sign is that you finished a section early. Many students express frustration that when they took the SAT, they didn't try to rush, they didn't try to finish—"it just happened." They say this as if they had no control over their actions, and partly, they're right.

The only way to be sure that you're not rushing is consciously to slow yourself down. When I ask these same students whether they wrote everything down (as mentioned in The SAT: How to Gain (or Lose) 30 IQ Points—Instantly!), they admit, "Well, no, not everything. I mean, a lot of the stuff was obvious so I did that in my head."

Busted. What word didn't they understand when I told them to write everything down on the SAT? The RocketRule is not that you write down what you think you have to write down, it's that you write down everything—especially when you think you don't have to.

A coach will sometimes tell athletes that if they have trouble talking when they're exercising, they're working out too hard. If you have trouble writing everything down on the SAT, you're moving too quickly—way too quickly.

Your ideal pace lies somewhere between too slow and too fast, and the only way to discover that pace is experimenting. Your ideal pace is that speed that permits you no more than two or three avoidable mistakes by per section. I say "avoidable" mistakes to distinguish them from unavoidable mistakes—questions you couldn't have gotten right no matter how much time you'd spent on them.

Your ideal pace will gradually increase as you begin to use the techniques you'll be learning. Most students start off their practice in the way-too-fast zone. The thing to do is find your ideal pace—again, the one that balances speed and accuracy—and gradually improve that.

Let me tell you, no matter what I say to you here, on the day of the SAT you'll be so tempted to rush; so, so tempted. You have to train yourself diligently before the test so you have the self-control when it counts. Trust me on this point: writing everything down on the SAT makes it impossible for you to rush.

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