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How Many SAT or ACT Practice Tests Should You Take?
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 SAT practice 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 SAT 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.
Identify Your Baseline and Goal for 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 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 down 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 an SAT 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.
Finding SAT and ACT Practice Tests
There are many SAT and ACT practice resources online, but you can also buy study books. 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 in 2015-2016.
Make sure any practice tests you use online are based on the most recent versions of the tests as well. The College Board offers 10 free SAT practice tests, six of which were previously administered to actual students. You can also visit the ACT website for free practice questions; since these are the organizations that create and administer the respective exams, they are great sources for practice materials.
We at CollegeVine also offer 3 free full-length and printable practice tests from our SAT curriculum:
Answer Sheet (where you can bubble in/fill in your answers)
Additionally, you can find other full-length SAT practice tests on the nonprofit site Khan Academy. Simply create an account and log in to access full-length tests for free. For more free SAT study resources, check out our post Links to Every Free SAT Practice Test + Other Free Resources.
Some students would rather practice for the SAT with paper and a pencil. After all, this is the manner in which the real test is administered. Fortunately, the College Board website allows students to download and print out paper practice tests. Once students mark their answers, they can check their scores online or download an app to do it for them. The free Daily Practice for the SAT app enables students to get instant results and feedback simply by taking a photo of their answer sheet. Looking for a pencil-and-paper version of the ACT? You can find one courtesy of Hubspot.
Of course, taking a practice test at home isn’t the same as doing it in a classroom with other students. If you truly want to simulate testing conditions, consider taking a free, in-person practice ACT test or SAT Test. Offered by the Princeton Review, these exams come with detailed score reports revealing a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, test-takers get an action plan for improving their scores moving forward.
Make sure you make room for practice tests in your study schedule; part of studying for the standardized tests is practicing how to take them.
How to Get the Most Out of Your SAT/ACT Practice Test
Deciding to take ACT or SAT practice tests isn’t enough. Students who are truly committed to increasing their scores take additional steps to get the most out of the experience. Here are some tips for maximizing performance on a practice test:
Location, Location, Location
If you want to improve your scores, you need to take steps to simulate testing conditions. Rather than study in your bedroom or kitchen, opt to take your practice test in a neutral environment like a classroom or library. Along with avoiding distractions like snacks and TV, you can get used to taking tests in a place where you feel less confident and comfortable. For best results, turn off your phone and leave it in your purse or backpack while you study.
Watch the Clock
To best simulate testing conditions, you should also keep a close eye on the official SAT timing breakdown. Here’s how much time you’ll have for each section, including breaks.
|Section||Time||Questions||Time Per Question|
|Reading||65 minutes||52||75 seconds|
|Writing||35 minutes||44||48 seconds|
|Math No Calculator||25 minutes||20||75 seconds|
|Math Calculator||55 minutes||38||87 seconds|
|Essay (optional)||50 minutes|
Don’t Just Take Practice Tests One After Another and Expect to See Improvement
If you take multiple SAT practice tests right on top of one another, you are not going to see much improvement. This because you haven’t actually taken the time to identify the areas that are challenging you and focused your studying in those areas. You need to study this material slowly and carefully, build your 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.
Start by trying to determine the types of mistake you’re making. Typically, SAT and ACT errors can be attributed to the following four areas:
- Lack of content knowledge
- Lack of time
When you review your practice test, note the number of errors you made in each category. Once you’ve identified your error pattern, you can take steps to correct it. For example, you might need to brush up on your math knowledge or improve your test-taking techniques so you don’t run out of time at the end of a section.
Try the Math Questions Again
When reviewing math mistakes, you may be tempted to move on as soon as you identify what went wrong. However, if you want to make the most of these practice sessions, strive to re-solve the questions you missed before moving on. Doing this helps ensure that the subject matter sticks in your mind.
Balance practice tests with targeted studying
Taking more SAT practice tests 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 to ensure that your scores are an accurate reflection of your abilities.
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
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