A lot of students have trouble finishing sections on time. I certainly did when I was practicing for the ACT reading and science sections, which are notorious for being the toughest sections to finish on time.
To become comfortable with the timing, not only must you practice under time pressure but you also must develop a sense for the pace you have to move at. And in order to do that, you need something to time yourself.
While any timer might do in practice, it's really tough to find a watch that meets test conditions, even though the SAT and ACT both recommend that you have one. Not every classroom has a clock. And even if it does, it's a distraction and a waste of time to calculate the minutes you have left from an analog clock. A stopwatch or a timer close-by makes it much easier.
When I was preparing to take my first ACT, I spent hours searching for a watch I could use in practice and in the testing room. Here were my requirements:
- cheap (lest you want to show off a Rolex on SAT day)
- have a stopwatch and timer (I usually just use the stopwatch but a timer is good for timed practice)
- be silent (no audible alarm)
- cannot be a smartwatch (no communications or recording capabilities)
- bonus: looks decent (it would be nice to have a watch I could use for more than just taking tests)
While most proctors probably wouldn't dismiss you because your watch made a beep during the test, both the SAT and ACT make it explicit that any noises from watches are not allowed.
Wow, the ACT makes it especially scary. After reading that, I didn't want to take any chances with how strict my proctor might be. Plus, it's better to keep it quiet as a courtesy to your fellow test-takers.
So what watch did I get?
I actually managed to find two that met my requirements.
|Casio Men's AE2000W-1AV (amazon link)||Casio Men's AE1000W-1B (amazon link)|
I got the one on the left, but I include the second one in case you prefer its design. They both meet the requirements. Sorry, girls. I didn't manage to find any watches that don't make it look like you inherited it from your older brother at MIT. However, there are a few additional styles available that are relatively easy to find on amazon.
Here's a checklist of things you should do once you get it:
- Adjust the time zone to yours (it's based on the city—I'm in the Northeast so it's New York for me).
- Adjust the time to the correct one.
- Silence the hourly signal (a beep on the hour).
- Silence any alarms.
- Learn how to use the stopwatch.
All the instructions are included in the box and they're available online. The great thing about these watches is that it's very easy to see whether the watch has been silenced or not.
The "ALM" tells you whether an alarm you've set up (such as a morning alarm) is active. If the background color is dark blue, that means an alarm is turned on. For the exam, you want that turned off (light blue). To do so, you must switch off all the alarms on the watch. If you didn't set any up, you should be fine. If you did, press the MODE button twice to enter alarm mode. Then press the SEARCH button to cycle through the alarms. If any say "ON", you can turn it off by pressing the ADJUST button.
The "SIG" represents the hourly signal. If it's turned on, the watch will beep every hour. You definitely want to turn this off. To do so, press the MODE button twice to enter alarm mode. A ":00" should show on your watch. Then press the ADJUST button to toggle the hourly signal on and off.
The "MUTE" makes the watch silent. You want the background color to be dark blue. Once it's turned on, any buttons you press will not make a sound and the stopwatch is silenced. This is what makes these watches great for test day. Hold down the MODE button to toggle it on and off.
Important Note: The only thing that makes noise is the timer. Because the purpose of a countdown timer is to alert you when time is up, it cannot be silenced. However, setting up the timer (configuring the number of minutes) does not make any noise; it only goes off when the countdown is finished. Personally, I prefer a stopwatch, which counts up, to a timer, which counts down, so it's not a problem for me. If you're going to follow my advice on how to practice your timing, you'll also want to stick with the stopwatch. If you prefer the timer, however, make sure your proctor is ok with it going off when time is up (most proctors won't care since time is already up at that point).
The last thing I'll say is that not everyone should use a watch during the exam. For some students, the watch is a distraction and a stress trigger. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you should use a watch on test day. Personally, I don't use the watch on sections for which I already have the timing down, but I do use it for sections that give me time trouble.
I highly recommend reading this post on how I practice my timing with this watch.
As always, hope you found this helpful!