Anticipating standardized tests can be nerve-wracking. With the SAT or ACT looming, it can be difficult to figure out how to prepare, and just how much preparation you need, especially when you don’t even know what content the test will cover. In this post, we‘ll take a look at preparing for the SAT and ACT with practice tests, and whether there is such a thing as taking too many practice tests.

The value of taking practice tests

Practice tests are one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT. They give you a feel for what the tests will be like, so there won’t be any huge surprises when test day rolls around. If you replicate the environment of the real exam—which you should at some point, so you can get a better sense of how the actual test will go—you can get a feel for the timing of each section and how long each type of question will take. Doing so will help you learn how to pace yourself and know when you are spending too much time on a given question (if you do encounter this problem, set the question aside and come back to it later, so you can finish questions that are more manageable first).

You don’t need to take an entire practice test in one sitting every time. When you start studying, try breaking the exam down into more manageable sections, so you get a feel for what the different sections and questions entail. You will learn about your own individual test-taking style, and it will be easier to address issues for unique sections if you run into any problems.

Check out 10 Tips to Prepare for the New SAT, 10 Tips to Improve Your SAT Score, and 10 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score for more advice on how to prepare for standardized tests.

Identify your baseline and your goal for your SAT or ACT scores

If your initial practice test yields a strong score, you may not need to take many more practice tests; you only need to enough to know that you are able to replicate your high score. If you take several practice tests and do well every time, you will know that you are on track to receive a high score when you sit for the actual test.

That said, it is important to take two or three practice tests when you begin studying for the SAT or ACT, even if you have an excellent first-time score, because you want to make sure you find any problem areas right away. You can use a practice test as a formative assessment—a diagnostic test used to identify problem areas and hone your studying strategy to address them. To learn about the process of taking a formative assessment, check out What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?.

If you start off with a low score, you will want to take more practice tests on a regular basis—how often you do so should be based on when your test day is and how long you have to prepare. If your test day is far into the future, you will be able to space out your practice tests and study in between each round. If your test is rapidly approaching, it may be a better idea to take plenty of practice tests more closely together and focus on studying the material that is giving you trouble, while reviewing other material in less depth.

It can be difficult to find tests online, though there are some study books available. If you do buy books, be sure they have the most up-to-date information available, since both the SAT and the ACT were revised relatively recently. Make sure any practice tests you use online are based on the most recent versions of the tests as well. The College Board offers free SAT practice tests, and ACT offers free practice questions; since these are the organizations that create and administer the respective exams, they are great sources for practice materials.

Make sure you write in practice tests into your study schedule; part of studying for the standardized tests is practicing how to take them.


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Don’t just take practice tests one after another and expect to see improvement

If you take multiple practice tests right on top of one another, you are not going to see much improvement, because you haven’t actually taken the time to identify the areas that are challenging you and focus your studying in those areas. You need to study this material slowly and carefully and focus on building knowledge of how to answer this sort of question. The only way to actually improve is to learn the material.

If you are taking plenty of practice tests but not seeing much improvement, it is probably because you have not mastered the material that is challenging to you, so that should be your focus before you take more practice tests.

Overall, the more practice tests, the merrier

Taking more practice tests can never hurt. In fact, it is a helpful way to track your progress. However, be careful to ensure that you are not taking so many that they cut into valuable studying time. It is essential to strike a balance between study time and practice test time so that you are both honing your skills and measuring your progress.

Figure out where your needs are: Do you have more trouble with test-taking or do you have more trouble with the material? Go from there.

If you do have trouble taking tests and it has to do more with nerves than your knowledge of the material, check out CollegeVine’s post, Dealing with Test Anxiety. Test anxiety is a common problem, and you may need some outside resources to help you cope with it in order to ensure that your scores are an accurate reflection of your abilities.

For more information

Looking for some more help to ensure that you ace your SAT or ACT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program and ACT Program will help you achieve top scores on your standardized tests.

Check out these CollegeVine posts for more information on studying and practice techniques for the SAT and ACT:

10 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score

10 Tips to Prepare for the SAT

10 Tips to Improve Your SAT Score

How the New SAT Is Scored

Five SAT Strategies You Should Know

ACT vs. SAT/SAT Subject Tests

When Should I Take the SAT or ACT?


SAT tutoring CollegeVine


Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine