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Needing a good SAT score can add a lot of pressure to your already hectic high school life. A good score can open endless doors while a bad one does the opposite. While it doesn’t seem fair to base your entire future on one test, everyone else is in the same boat as you, and College Board works hard to make sure the whole process is fair for everyone.

It’s easy to get discouraged if the score you got isn’t what you wanted, but fear not! Raising your score is not as hard as it may seem when you have a plan, and you can even do it for free. We’re going to break down exactly how you should use the official SAT practice tests, how to score them yourself, and even how to turn your results into a tangible plan for improvement. Buckle up, the road to success awaits!

How many SAT Practice Tests Should I Take Before I Take the SAT?

You should take as many official SAT practice tests as you can before you take the SAT, but most importantly: take at least one SAT practice test in the beginning of your prep journey and one in the end, right before your target test date.

We recommend preparing for the SAT at least 3 months in advance, which leaves plenty of time to isolate your mistakes and revisit topics you find difficult until it’s all second nature and you’re a pro. There’s no excuse not to take practice tests, especially when there are several official SAT practice tests available for free, made by the same people who write the actual SAT, College Board.

Okay, so you’re on a time crunch because you got busy with band and DECA and the cute guy in your bio class, so you don’t have time to thoughtfully take 8 SAT practice tests before exam day. No problem! There’s a few differences between the first set of practice tests released in 2016 after the SAT was restructured, and the second set released a couple years later.

The initial set of practice tests released were created solely for SAT test prep, but without any student data since it was a new test. College Board released them as a way to show students what to expect on the new SAT. However, data has since allowed College Board to adjust and refine the tests. The newer SAT practice tests (5-8) reflect the changes College Board has made since the new test came out a few years ago.

We’re  not saying they’re better, but they are more current. It’s possible they could more closely-resemble what you’ll see on the actual test. Don’t let that deter you from practice tests 1-4, though, since practice is practice and any official SAT practice is good!

Don’t forget to time yourself on SAT Practice Tests!

SAT Practice Test Tips: 6 Important Dos and Don’ts

  1. DO begin your SAT prep journey with a practice test. This is the best way to figure out exactly which areas need the most work. After you score your first SAT practice test using the conversion chart, in the “Answers and Scoring” link, you can isolate your subscores, which help provide more detail about your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t worry, we’ll go over how to do that later. Spend time focusing on improving your weakest areas before you take the next practice test. There’s no quick tips to significantly improve your score, unfortunately. The best way to improve your score is to improve your weakest skills.
  2. DO use your wrong answers to better understand why you missed a question. Was it a dumb mistake where you simply misread the question? Or are you unsure of what the heck a subject and a verb are? Decipher which areas need the most work and do the work! That’s the only way to significantly improve your score from practice test to test. While there’s no penalty for wrong answers, guessing can only get you so far on the SAT. If you don’t see an improvement between practice tests and you’re missing the same kinds of questions, the only way to improve your score is to improve your skill on those questions.
  3. DON’T neglect practicing concepts you’re good at, too! The good news is there’s a solid chance that parts of the SAT will come easily to you. Don’t take it for granted, though. In basketball practice you don’t only practice footwork and stamina, you practice free throws and layups as well (even though you probably never miss). It’s the same with the SAT! Everyone is susceptible to making mistakes, no matter how easy you think the concept in question is.
  4. DON’T sit down and take all the tests in a scary, marathon, nightmare session of SAT questions. You’ll want to take each practice test with fresh eyes, like it’s the real thing. If you binge all of the SAT practice questions at once and then try to go back and redo them, your fresh eyes are gone, and your results may be biased. Figure out when you’re testing and make a study schedule that allows for as much practice as possible—with time in between to improve skills that need work. Take your time and take the tests intentionally with a plan on how to improve on your mistakes.
  5. DO take only official practice tests from College Board. Unofficial tests aren’t necessarily scored or structured in the same way, meaning they can’t give you an accurate prediction of how you’ll do on the real test. College Board has a million resources to determine the difficulty of tests and how that affects scoring, whereas third-party, unofficial prep resources can’t possibly compare. They can do a good job of mimicking the look and feel of the SAT, so don’t rule them out for extra practice between official practice tests; but for accurate scoring, only trust the real deal. One of the best ways to master a tricky topic is practice, practice, practice. Use unofficial tests for practice if you need additional resources and don’t want to burn through the College Board tests. Just be sure you don’t take unofficial practice test results as a meaningful predictor of what your score will be on the SAT. A lot of unofficial “SAT practice tests” aren’t even created to be SAT-specific– some are GRE or ACT questions repackaged to look like SAT. SAT questions approach topics in a very specific way that may or may not be mimicked in what you see in unofficial tests. These practice questions are best to practice concepts you need help with, not to be a standard of how the SAT is going to feel.
  6. DO Pretend the practice tests are the real thing! Time yourself, eliminate distractions, make your brother take the dog on a walk, use a number 2 pencil, lock the answers away and don’t you dare peek! If home is too distracting to practice effectively, try escaping to a public library or another quiet place where you can focus. The real test will be taken in silence for most students, so get comfortable with being alone in your own head for a few hours.  The more familiar you are with how the SAT is going to feel, the more confident you’ll be during the actual test. Also, make sure the calculator you practice with is allowed on the test using this list of College Board approved calculators. You don’t want any surprises come test day. Use practice testing sessions to learn how to pace yourself with the questions. While 3 hours may seem like a long time to sit in silence and focus on something that maybe isn’t that fun, imagine the fun you’ll have when your awesome score gets you into your dream college, maybe even on a scholarship. So much fun!

How to Grade SAT Practice Tests

SAT practice tests are scored just like the real thing. There are two main sections, Math and Evidence Based Reading and Writing, each scored on a scale of 200-800 points per section. The Math section is broken down further into calculator and non-calculator sections. There is no penalty for wrong answers, and you are awarded points for every correct answer. Your total score is the sum of the two sections’ scaled scores.

After you take your practice test, use your bubbled-in answer sheet, the conversion tables, and the correct answer sheet included with the practice test to score your test. Begin by using the answer sheet to calculate the raw score of your practice test. Your raw score is simply the number of questions you answered correctly– nothing crazy yet.

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This is where the conversion charts come in. Take your raw score from each section to determine your scaled score using the conversion table. Add your converted Writing and Language score to your Reading score and then multiply it by ten for your total Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section Score.

Stay with me, we’re almost there!

Then, add your calculator raw score to your non calculator raw score to get your math raw score. Use the conversion table to determine your scaled math score. Lastly, add the math scaled score you calculated to your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scaled score for your composite practice test score.  This number will be between 400 and 1600 and represents your projected score on the SAT.

Here is an example of what an SAT conversion chart looks like.

You May Be Asking: What’s the Point of the Scaled Score in the First Place?

It seems unnecessarily confusing, right? Well, scaled scores help College Board compare students who take different versions of the test in a “universally accepted statistical process” called equating. Many standardized tests use similar systems to ensure everyone’s scores are fair and accurate. While they do their best to make all the tests equal in difficulty, some editions of the test are more difficult than others, so the scaled score works as an equalizer.

More difficult tests have a higher scaled score for fewer correct answers (or a lower raw score) because the makers of the test acknowledge the increased difficulty. On the other hand, easier tests are worth fewer scaled points because the likelihood that students who take it get a lot of answers right increases with the ease of the questions. It’s done like this so scores are an accurate representation of student ability across all variations of the test.

They can’t give everyone the same test, after all. That would be great, but in a world where recent versions of the test trend on Twitter, everyone with a social media account could have a 1600.

The best way to create a level playing field is through the equating process. This is also why it is important to only use official practice tests as the benchmark to predict how you’ll do on the real test. College Board uses a specific method for score conversion, which is hard for other unofficial resources to match. If you want an accurate prediction of how you’ll do, official SAT practice tests are the best way to go!

Because each test is different in how its scored, its very difficult to predict what raw score you need in order to get your desired scaled score. However, College Board does its best to help by providing students with ranges that help predict how many questions you’ll need to get right (raw score) in order to get a certain scaled score. These ranges are included in the practice tests.

Subscores Explained

One of the best tools available to you to determine which areas need more work is a breakdown of your subscores. Subscores helps provide more detail about your apparent strengths and weaknesses on a scale of 1-15.

To calculate your subscores, use Raw Score Conversion Table 2 included in the practice tests. Questions on the SAT are divided into 7 sections, or subscores: Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, Words in Context, and Command of Evidence.

Take your raw scores from each section to figure out where you fall on the scale of 1-15 and focus on refining your lowest scores first. This helps you figure out exactly what kind of topics need the most work, which is the best way for you to improve your score. Get better at those topics, and you’ll see better results on the next test!

Take your practice tests in a quiet area with limited distractions.

Are SAT Practice Tests Easier Than the Real SAT?

If you do a quick Google search, the first results make it look like the practice tests are easier than the actual SAT. This is not necessarily true. Perception of difficulty is subjective, after all.

Sometimes, it seems the practice tests are easier than the SAT because students take them in more relaxed settings, maybe with headphones in, their feet kicked up, eating a snack, and taking long breaks between sections. However the real test is not nearly as comfy. You’re faced with silence, maybe only broken up by peers tapping their pencils or other irritating sounds, harsh fluorescent classroom lights, etc. The anxiety of an uncomfortable and unknown environment could add to the perceived difficulty of the SAT.

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This is why practicing the test exactly how it’s administered is so important! If you’re used to how test day will feel, you’ll eliminate the extra anxiety of the unknown and uncomfortable. Try to prepare exactly how you plan to take the real exam.

Eliminating variables ends in more accurate results, just like in a science experiment. If you really want to get crazy, eat the same thing for breakfast before the real SAT that you ate before your practice tests. There’s science behind that, too!

Also, just like the real test, different practice tests have different difficulty levels, but don’t worry! The way the tests are scored evens out the results, so you won’t be stuck with a comparatively low score because the test you took was harder than the one your friend Jessica took last month.

It’s a good idea to take as many official practice tests as you can, on a planned schedule, with time to prep and practice in between. This way, you can get a good feel for the variety of question difficulty you may see on test day. In addition, an easy test to Sarah may feel impossible for Juan; it totally depends on the individual student and their personal strengths versus weaknesses.

The different sections on the SAT vary by difficulty as well. The math section on a particular test could be much harder than the English section, at least before the equating process comes into play. Its hard to say what the test you take will look like, so your best bet is to prepare for anything. There is no such thing as being over prepared.

Kirsten Mann
Kirsten is the Operations Coordinator at Test Geek. She has a 35 on the ACT Reading Test and enjoys sarcasm and pop culture references.

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