One of the most common questions I hear from SAT students is “How many SAT practice tests should I take?” Many high schoolers are unsure of how many full-length practice tests they need to take to be truly prepared for the real SAT. And given how important a great SAT score can be for college admissions, they want to make sure they’re taking all the necessary steps to make their SAT prep as effective as possible.
In this article, I’ll tell you how many practice tests to incorporate into your SAT study plan so that you’re ready for the real deal, and give you advice on the most reliable practice tests to take. I’ll also explain my top 3 reasons why taking full-length practice tests is an essential part of SAT prep.
Here are all the topics we’ll cover:
- How Many SAT Practice Tests Are There?
- Which SAT Practice Test Is the Best to Take?
- Are the Practice Tests Easier Than the SAT?
- How Many SAT Practice Tests Should I Take?
- In Conclusion
- What’s Next?
Let’s start by answering some important questions about taking SAT practice tests.
How Many SAT Practice Tests Are There?
College Board, the maker of the SAT, provides a total of 8 official SAT practice exams on its website. These full-length practice tests are free and are in downloadable PDF form.
There are also many unofficial SAT practice tests out there that various test prep companies offer. However, the value of those tests is questionable compared to that of the official tests. Let’s talk about why.
College Board, the maker of the SAT, offers 8 full-length practice tests for free on its website.
Which SAT Practice Test Is the Best to Take?
I recommend to all my SAT students that they stick to official tests when taking practice exams during their SAT prep. There are a couple of reasons why using official SAT practice tests, and only official tests, is the smart move. Let’s discuss what those reasons are.
Official Tests Are the Most Accurate
The official SAT practice exams provided on the College Board website mirror the structure, format, content, and difficulty of the real test. In fact, some of those tests, maybe even up to half of them, are retired SATs — real tests that are no longer administered to students. In providing these tests, College Board is essentially saying, This is what you can expect on test day.
The fact is, when you take official tests, you’re getting tests designed by the maker of the real SAT. So, you know you’re getting the most realistic and accurate model of the SAT out there. Will those tests be exactly the same as what you see on test day? No practice test can claim that. But it’s pretty safe to say that the official tests are as close as you can get.
Think about it: What are the chances that some other company is going to be able to make full-length practice tests that are more realistic than the ones the actual SAT creators made?
TTP PRO TIP:
Official SAT practice tests from College Board give you the most realistic and accurate model of the real SAT.
Now, many SAT students wonder, what if I take some full-length practice tests from College Board and some from other companies? Let’s talk about why that’s not a productive plan.
Mixing & Matching Tests Can Skew Your Score
Taking official tests gives you the most accurate view of your current abilities and what your SAT score would currently be. Since we can’t rely on other full-length practice tests to be as accurate as official tests, taking unofficial tests could give you a false impression of your current SAT score.
Moreover, when you take some tests from College Board and some from other companies, you may get a distorted view of your score trajectory. To illustrate this important point, let’s look at a couple of example scenarios.
Scenario 1: You Start With Unofficial Tests
Let’s say you take a full-length practice test from SAT Prep Company A and one from SAT Prep Company B. You score 1160 and 1200, respectively, on those two exams. Has your SAT score really improved from your first test to your second? Since you’re using tests from two different companies, which surely use different methods for creating test questions and gauging question difficulty, we can’t say for sure.
You then take two official SAT practice tests from College Board and score 1120 and 1130. Has your SAT score actually dropped by 70 points? Or, were you not actually capable of scoring 1200 on the real SAT when you took the practice tests from other companies?
Scenario 2: You Start With Official Tests
Let’s say you take some official tests first and find that you’re scoring in the 1400 range. You then take a practice exam from another company and score 1450, which happens to be your score goal. Are you truly ready to sit for the real test? Or, does that other company just have less accurate practice exams?
We can see that mixing and matching full-length practice tests from various companies can be a recipe for confusion, one that could lead to some serious disappointment on test day.
On the other hand, if you stick to the official tests from College Board and your score increases or decreases from one test to the next, you’ll know you’re comparing apples to apples.
TTP PRO TIP:
To get the most accurate view of your current SAT score, don’t mix and match full-length practice tests from various companies.
Now, none of this means that you can’t get valuable SAT practice outside of the College Board materials. In fact, such practice is a critical part of the SAT study process. Let’s discuss.
Practice Sets Are Different From Full-Length Tests
You may now be wondering, if official tests are the most realistic, should you do SAT practice only with questions from official practice tests or “released tests”? And how is it that your friends and schoolmates have had success on the SAT using courses and practice materials from test prep companies?
Here’s the thing: full-length practice tests are just one part of the SAT practice you need for test day. Furthermore, full-length practice tests are very different from the practice SAT questions, quizzes, and diagnostics you should complete as part of your overall test prep plan.
Individual practice questions, practice sets, and other forms of targeted practice are important ways to build your mastery of specific SAT concepts, skills, and question types. For example, the practice questions, chapter tests, review quizzes, and custom tests that the TTP Study Plan strategically deploys throughout our SAT course allow our students to systematically apply what they’ve just learned, reinforce and refresh their knowledge as they progress, and close their knowledge gaps. Those are not the purposes of full-length practice tests! (We’ll delve into the purpose of full-length tests shortly.)
Of course, TTP’s team of SAT experts carefully researches and crafts our practice questions to make them both highly realistic and highly useful for SAT students. So, you always want to make sure that you’re using a reputable source for your SAT practice. But the overall point is that the practice that an SAT course from a test prep company provides doesn’t serve the same purpose as the practice you get from official tests, and both are important aspects of preparing for test day.
Are the Practice Tests Easier Than the SAT?
No two SATs are exactly alike, whether we’re talking practice tests or real tests. So, depending on what questions you see from one test to the next, and what your current strengths and weaknesses are, you may find any given SAT somewhat more or less challenging than another.
That said, for all the reasons we’ve already discussed, the difficulty level of the official practice tests is basically on par with that of the real SAT.
Of course, as we’ve also discussed, there is no guarantee that the difficulty level of full-length tests from companies other than College Board is comparable to that of the real SAT.
The overall difficulty level of official practice tests is on par with that of the actual SAT.
Now that we’ve answered some common questions about SAT practice tests, let’s get to our primary question, how many practice tests you should take.
How Many SAT Practice Tests Should I Take?
In an ideal world, students should plan their SAT prep so that they have time to take all 8 official SAT practice tests from the College Board website.
Now, 8 full-length tests may sound like a lot. However, if you follow a sensible study plan, you won’t be cramming all these tests in at the last minute. Rather, you’ll space them out, taking them at strategic points in your prep.
There are 3 key purposes that these full-length, official tests serve that will help you ensure that you’re truly ready to hit your score goal on test day. Let’s take a look at what those purposes are.
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Take all 8 official SAT practice tests.
Purpose #1: To Accurately Assess Your Current Score
There are a couple of different points in your SAT prep when you’ll need to accurately assess what your current SAT score is.
The first point is at the very beginning of your prep. Before you even begin your SAT study, you’ll need to take a full-length practice test to get your baseline SAT score. Why is this an essential step in getting started with your prep? Well, if you don’t know how far your starting score is from your score goal, you won’t have a realistic sense of how much time and effort you’ll need to put in to reach your goal.
Would you enter a race without knowing how many miles you’ll have to run to reach the finish line? Of course not!
The second point at which you’ll need to take official tests is in the final stage of your SAT prep. At that point, you’ll again need to assess how close your study efforts have gotten you to your score goal. In other words, you’ll want to make sure that you’re consistently hitting your score goal on official practice tests before you sit for the real deal. Then, you can walk into the testing room feeling ready and confident, not nervous and wishing you’d studied for another month.
TTP PRO TIP:
Full-length, official practice tests are the best way to assess what your starting SAT score is and whether you’re ready to take the real test.
Purpose #2: To Get the Test-Day Experience
After you’ve mastered SAT content, it’s important to become skilled at and comfortable with the process of sitting for the real SAT.
Taking all 8 official practice SATs gives you plenty of opportunity to build the mental and physical stamina you’ll need to endure a stressful, 3-hour test. Plus, after taking all those practice tests, your level of anxiety about test day will probably diminish significantly. Chances are, you’ll be so well-practiced that the real SAT will feel like just another practice test to you.
Of course, to get the full benefit of this important training, you’ll need to replicate test conditions as closely as possible. So, take your practice tests in a quiet space where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Additionally, follow all test-day procedures and rules. That means no unauthorized breaks, looking at your phone or answering text messages from friends, or doing anything that you wouldn’t be able to do during the real SAT.
Use these 8 tests to build your comfort with the experience of sitting for the SAT, and you’ll be cool, calm, and collected on test day!
TTP PRO TIP:
Taking all 8 official practice tests helps you build necessary mental and physical stamina and get comfortable with test conditions.
Purpose #3: To Hone Your Timing Strategies
Along with mastering content, a key to performing well on the SAT is properly pacing yourself throughout the test. Completing timed practice sets — as important as they are — doesn’t call upon the same level of time-management skills as a full-length test.
Taking all of the official practice exams gives you an opportunity to, literally, put your timing strategies to the test. You’ll see what works and what doesn’t, in a realistic environment. Moreover, you’ll be able to make adjustments as needed from one test to the next.
So, to fully prepare yourself for the unique time-management challenges that the SAT presents, and make sure your timing strategies are really dialed in, your best bet is to take all 8 official tests.
TTP PRO TIP:
To fully prepare yourself for the unique time-management challenges that the SAT presents, take all 8 official practice exams.
When incorporating SAT practice tests into your test prep plan, remember the following:
- College Board, the creator of the SAT, provides 8 free, full-length practice tests on its website. Take all 8 of these tests.
- Follow all test-day rules and replicate test conditions as much as possible when you take official practice tests.
- Official practice tests are the closest thing to the real SAT that you can get before test day.
- Official tests provide the most accurate view of your current SAT score.
- Taking all 8 official tests allows you to build the mental and physical stamina you need for test day and get comfortable with the testing experience.
- Taking all 8 official tests gives you plenty of opportunity to learn how to pace yourself throughout a 3-hour test and to refine your timing strategies.
- There is no guarantee of the accuracy of full-length practice tests from sources other than College Board. So, comparing scores from unofficial tests with those from official tests is like comparing apples to oranges.
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