How Practice Tests Can Help Improve SAT, ACT Scores

As a student preparing for college, chances are that your school might require you to take the SAT or ACT. This might make you feel nervous, especially if you're serious about standing out among other applicants for your dream school.

One of the best ways to study and prepare for these standardized college entrance exams is by taking practice tests.

You can find full SAT practice tests online or you can purchase test prep books with SAT or ACT questions and full-length tests. Reviewing and taking these tests is a crucial part of your SAT and ACT prep.

Practice tests can be a big investment of your time--both tests take about four hours to complete--but your effort will pay off in the long run. Completing these tests can help you better prepare for the SAT and ACT in four ways, including:

1. You'™ll finish within the time limit

Both the SAT and ACT are timed tests, which means you have to complete each section within a specified time limit. If you run out of time, too bad--”you have to leave the answers blank. Taking a number of practice tests during your ACT and SAT prep will give you a good idea of how much time you have to complete each section.

For your first practice test, it is a good idea to take as long as you need. Familiarize yourself with the test structure and the types of questions asked so that you aren't surprised when taking the official test.

Next, take a full practice test and time yourself. This will give you a good idea of how much you can get done within the time limits, as well as discover any areas you might need to work more efficiently.

2. You'™ll know--and improve--your weaknesses

Speaking of improvement, taking ACT and SAT practice tests will highlight your weaknesses, and give you opportunities to work on them. For example, the English section on the ACT may have been a breeze, but you missed all the trigonometry questions on the math section. To improve your ACT score, you'll need to brush up on trigonometry and focus your study on math, rather than on grammar. Or, maybe you always run out of time on the SAT reading section. €”so do as many of these as you can and practice strategies for speed reading.

Taking practice tests will also give you a baseline for your ACT or SAT score. As you work on your weaknesses, you'll be able to track your progress and improvement in scores over time. This will give you a good idea of what your score will be on the official test. You can then compare your practice test score to the average score of the college you're applying to.

Setting goals to improve your scores may motivate you to work harder on your SAT and ACT prep.

3. You'll have enough stamina to finish strong

No one jumps up off the couch and runs a marathon without training for one. Distance running requires stamina and endurance, and both are built up over time. Likewise, you may have no problem taking a 35 or 45-minute test, but how about a three-hour one? Test-takers do get breaks between sections, but they don't give you much recovery time.

Taking practice tests will help you build mental stamina to get you through the entire test, and to switch gears between math, science, writing, and reading.

4. You'll conquer test anxiety

Test-taking is never fun, and the pressure of scoring well can cause you to freeze up on test day. Practice tests can help ease the anxiety that comes with taking a college entrance exam.

To get all the test jitters out of your system, look for opportunities to take a proctored mock SAT or ACT that mimics the test environment as closely as possible. These are usually offered at your school, local library, or through test prep courses. You'll get a chance to try out your No. 2 pencils on a bubble sheet and practice pacing yourself. With this preparation, you'll know what to expect on test day. Simply remembering all the practice you've done can help ease your anxiety.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Get a good night's rest so you will be alert and refreshed
  • Eat a healthy breakfast and bring snacks to eat during your breaks
  • Arrive early - you don't want to be scrambling to find a parking space or get lost in finding the site and be late
  • Take deep breaths and stay calm
  • Read each question thoroughly to ensure you answer it correctly
  • Bring a sweater in case it's cold
  • Pace yourself so that you don't spend too much time on one question
  • Save time at the end of each section to go back and answer questions you were stuck on and double check all your other answers

If you want to get a good score on your ACT or SAT, consider taking a practice test. Not only will it help ease some of your anxiety, but you'™ll also have a good idea of what to expect and have the opportunity to improve your weaker areas. The more you do it, the more comfortable you'll become and the more prepared you'™ll be.

You will want to be sure to do research on different resources available online and in your school or community to best prepare. If you aren'™t satisfied with your score, don't fret. Always remember that you can retake the test some other time to achieve a better score.