7 Ways to Get the Most out of your Practice Tests

By Jiho

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We all know there is no shortage of SAT practice materials out there. I don’t know about you, but rather than taking every single practice test out there, I’d rather be efficient. Since each SAT practice exam takes about 3-4 hours, it’s not easy to make time to do a full practice every single week. Here are some strategies I developed to get the most out of my practice tests.

1. Know the exam

Before jumping into a practice exam, know what you are getting into! Understand the order of sections on the SAT and the corresponding content. For example, know that the first section is a 65 minute section with 52 questions focused on reading and vocabulary in context. Don’t walk into a practice test with no understanding of what’s on the test because you’ll just waste your time.

2. Pick a good practice test

The best practice tests are definitely the official SAT ones that are issued by CollegeBoard. These are official practice tests that will be closest to the one you will take on test day.

Books issued by companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. are good ways to get more practice in. Note that some books contain exams that may be harder or easier for you than the official SAT prep materials. Don’t let this discourage or confuse you! It will still be a good opportunity to develop and sharpen your test taking strategies.

3. Replicate the testing environment

There are (only) 8 official practice tests available, so you have to take a good practice test. What does this mean? This doesn’t mean sit at the end of your dining room table and fill out the exam like homework while your siblings distract you. This means creating a serious testing environment, where your exam is timed and proctored.

I don’t recommend doing this in a comfortable space, like your bedroom or favorite coffeeshop. Try reserving a room in a local library or your school and have a friend or family member carefully time you. There are also exam centers like Princeton Review in Lower Manhattan or CATES in Murray Hill where you can pay for a practice exam that is proctored like the real SAT.

4. Track your practice tests

Keep track of your practice tests so you can see how your scores have changed over time. Use Google Sheets or even a simple pad of graphing paper. The most important thing here is that you record your scores in chronological order with the breakdowns. It’s always exciting to see that upward trend.

5. Keep a journal of your mistakes

This was the most helpful tool in boosting my SAT scores. I kept separate notebooks for the Reading, Writing, and Math sections and keep a running log of wrong answers. Be sure to either copy the question down or summarize it so you can see what you got wrong without having to flip back to the practice test. Then, I wrote what kind of question it was, what type of error I made, as well as a small mini-lesson that I learned from this mistake. This helps you categorize the SAT questions into manageable chunks, and prevent you from making the same mistakes again (hopefully!). Keep these journals close because you should review them frequently.

6. Review unfamiliar content

Don’t jump into another practice test just yet! After recording your wrong answers, determine whether or not you need to review some content. Find some fun videos through Khan Academy or ask your tutor to help go over some material. There are plenty of ways to review content, so take some time to review. You’ll remember how to answer a similar question next time.

7. Objectively review your current test-taking strategies

Sometimes, I found myself making mistakes that I would not make in normal circumstances. Students often shrug these off as stupid mistakes, but I always took a minute to ask myself some questions on how I took the test. For example, “Did I spend too long on the multiple choice?” or “Am I taking too long to read the passages?” are a couple questions to think about. Remember that the SAT is not only about knowing the material, but also knowing how to take this test. It’s a 4 hour test, so be sure that your strategies will carry you through the entire exam. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

After going through all of these steps, don’t forget to RELAX! If you get stuck on a question, take a deep breath. If you performed worse on a practice exam than last time, remind yourself that it’s ok! Some exams are trickier than others and that means it’s another opportunity to learn a few more tricks and solidify more concepts. And don’t forget--it’s just a practice test and you’re just getting ready for the real deal.

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