College test prep can take many forms, but some of the basic requirements remain the same. In order to improve your test taking skills for any particular exam, you must practice using real tests that were written by certified test creators. Read our tips for how to find real SAT practice tests online for free.
Why should you use real SAT tests for practice?
College Board has perfected their method for creating the SAT exam over a series of decades. They have a consistent brand and voice meant to assess and analyze skills in very unique areas. Although imitation tests such as those available in booklets released by prep organizations such as Kaplan, or Barron’s, or Princeton Review can be useful once you’ve reached a certain stage in your test prep journey (see below for more details), the best option is to always use a real practice SAT test when learning how to study and gaining familiarity with the exam.
Unfortunately it has been the case that some students find imitation tests to have been too easy, meaning they were given a false sense of confidence going into the testing room and were rudely surprised by the material they were presented with. However, sometimes the opposite happens, and students inadvertently prepare with tests that are much harder than the actual exam material. When this happens, students are often pleasantly surprised. However, this latter outcome is rare.
Ultimately, when given the choice, it is better to use authentic testing materials for preparation. To do otherwise would be to either under prepare (resulting in a weakened score) or over prepare (resulting in precious time and money spent in inefficient ways). Fortunately, College Board has released a number of practice tests online for student use and preparation.
How to study for the SAT using real practice tests
Once you have your practice tests, you’ll need to develop a test prep plan that will help you to make the most of them. Resist the temptation to look through them all at once. As of now, there are only eight available SAT tests to work from. Once these are exhausted, you will be forced to work with less reliable materials.
Divide Your Tests into “Mock Tests” and “Prep Tests”
SAT has released eight tests. Separate these into two categories - Select tests #1, #5, and #8 to be your official mock exams. Put these in a box and save them for later. Tests #2, #3, #4, #6, and #7 are now your official homework tests.
How to improve your SAT score with free tests
These tests must be used strategically. The plan below loosely resembles our method for how to self study using official testing materials.
1. Start with a mock exam
Clear your weekend and self administer a practice mock exam using test #1. This will give you an incoming baseline from which to work from. You’ll gain an idea of strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be worked on in the coming weeks.
2. Use the study tests as needed
Once you have your incoming score, use the study tests as homework. Practice select problems and use individual sections to work on your pacing. Keep in mind, this can be extremely difficult for a student to master on their own, which is why we always recommend working with a tutor. Contact us for further details.
3. Keep taking mock tests
Schedule a time to self administer mock tests #5 and #8. Spread these out so that you have at least a few weeks in between them, and take test #8 no later than 2 weeks before your official test day. This will allow you to check in and determine what you’ve learned and what still needs to be worked on.
This method of scheduling is highly individualized, and we recommend working with a tutor who can help plan your progression.
How to use other practice tests to study for SAT
What happens if you run out of official tests and still need more practice? When this happens, it may be time to work with imitation testing materials. Although not exactly the same calibre as the official tests, you can certainly continue to develop your skills and keep improving your testing strategies.
Where to find free SAT tests online
There are eight tests available for free on the College Board website:
Work with an Admissions Mentoring Test Prep Plan
The method described above is an effective way for students to administer a self study plan. However, we always recommend that students work with a personal tutor or test prep class when given the option.
Admissions Mentoring provides personalized application mentoring services for students applying to colleges and other elite institutions. We work with students and families around the world to craft competitive applications. Click here to schedule a free consultation.