So you’ve decided (or you’re being forced) to take the SAT. And someone (a teacher, a parent, or a friend) told you that taking SAT practice tests beforehand is important. Guess what? They’re absolutely right!
Why should you take SAT practice tests? When is the best time to take practice tests? Which ones should you take? And what exactly is the difference between the words “all right” and “alright”? We have the answers to three of those four questions.
Why Should You Take SAT Practice Tests?
Most students admittedly don’t enjoy taking practice tests, but it’s honestly one of the best ways to figure out your strengths and weaknesses in addition to simulating the test day experience. There are two primary reasons to take practice tests while you’re preparing for the SAT:
1. It builds your test-taking stamina.
Coming in at 3 hours long (not including the optional essay, breaks, and pre-test bubbling), the SAT is truly a beast of an exam. For most students, it’s by far the longest test they’ve ever taken. Just like you wouldn’t approach a marathon by simply showing up on race day and attempting to run 26.2 miles with no prior training, you shouldn’t show up to your SAT exam without having taken at least one practice test.
2. It allows you to identify and fix timing issues.
There are two types of timing issues you might run into while taking the SAT.
The first kind of problem is content-related. In these cases, you just don’t know where to start when you come up against a particular question type, so you end up wasting valuable time trying to figure things out. That issue can (and should) be addressed in an untimed practice environment through studying and completing practice questions.
The other kind of problem is with timing itself. When you have an issue with timing on the SAT, it’s typically because you’re running out of time on a section or a particular problem set is taking way longer than it should.
These are the sorts of issues you’re only going to notice (or be able to fix) by taking a full practice test. Use practice tests as opportunities to identify these problems and work on fixing them!
When Should You Take SAT Practice Tests?
There’s no particular schedule that’s going to work for every student. For most students, an effective SAT practice test schedule should look something like this:
1. Take a diagnostic test when you start preparing.
If you’ve already taken the official SAT, you can use that as your basis. It’s not just the score that’s important– it’s looking at what you’re doing well and where you need more work.
2. Try to take a practice test once every 4 weeks or so leading up to the official test.
This schedule will give you plenty of time to practice sitting for the SAT and test your knowledge when it comes to specific subject matters and question types. It’ll also give you plenty of chances to get used to testing in a timed setting.
3. In the last 3–4 weeks before your official SAT, take two full practice tests.
This gives you an opportunity to identify small issues and do a little bit of last-minute polishing! Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to rest (five days is ideal) before your official test day.
Is That Really Enough?
If you’re stressing about the SAT, your natural tendency might be to take as many practice tests as possible to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. While that might seem logical, it’s probably not going to help as much as you think it will. Here’s why:
1. Practice tests are good for practice, not for learning.
When you’re taking a practice test, you should be focused on getting better at timing, stamina, and performing under pressure instead of learning and practicing new problem-solving approaches for a variety of question types. Both are important, though, so make sure you balance learning and practicing.
2. You need time to learn from your practice tests.
Taking a practice test is a great practice by itself, but learning from your mistakes is what’s really important. Spacing out your practice tests allows you to make sure you’re giving yourself time to practice new positive test-taking habits and getting rid of bad ones.
Which Practice Tests Should You Take?
Focus on taking the College Board’s official SAT practice tests! You can download eight official full-length SAT practice tests for free. The best part? You can also download the answers and the explanations that show why those answers are right, so once you’re done answering the practice questions you’ll have a clear idea of which areas you need to improve on.
Any Final Practice Test Tips?
Take practice tests in “unfriendly” places.
We know- it’s tempting to take practice tests from the comfort of your cozy bed. Unfortunately, your official SAT testing room isn’t going to be nearly as comfy. Put your phone away, turn off Spotify, find a quiet space, and get used to sitting for four hours (including breaks) at a desk someplace other than your bedroom. It’ll be less comfortable in the moment, but it’ll make the transition to the testing center on test day less jarring.
Take your practice tests at the same time of day that you will be sitting for the official SAT.
If your official test day exam is scheduled for 9 a.m., aim to take your practice tests at 9 a.m. as well.
Make time to thoroughly review.
Don’t just focus on what you got right and wrong. Think about how you spent your time, what caused you to make careless mistakes, and what you want to change about your approach next time to do even better!
Remember: The best performances sometimes come after the worst dress rehearsals!
Even if a particular SAT practice test score isn’t all that you want it to be, focus on the process and celebrate all the work you’ve put in. Success starts with a small step.