Sitting through the actual SAT is like being on stage. No matter how well you know the song or the routine, the first time you get up there it’s a new experience and your performance goes south. However, the second time is always much better. Students tell me again and again that the second time they took the SAT went much better than the first time, partly because they had more practice, but also because the second time they were used to it.

SAT practice test © Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Shutterstock.com

This may be how the testing process goes, but you can close that gap and make your first SAT go much better by using the SAT practice tests to prepare for the testing experience. Here are 10 ways to get the most from the practice SATs.

Practice an Entire SAT in One Sitting

How well you can answer the questions doesn’t matter if you can’t maintain your energy for the length of the exam. When you’re in a pressure cooker like the actual exam, your brain is in overdrive. Whether you’re omitting the essay (for a four-hour exam) or including it (for five hours), you need to become used to working intensely for these hours in one stretch so you can go the distance on exam day.

Practice Not Making Mistakes Under Pressure

Did you get stuck on an early question and not finish the SAT Writing and Language Test? Did you skip a line on the bubble sheet? Did you get lost in the pages, unable to find the question that you wanted to return to? Did you know better than to make these mistakes? Of course you did, but this happens to everyone, especially under pressure.

Only by falling into a trap do you learn out how to avoid it. Work out the bugs on a practice SAT. Make these mistakes at home, where it doesn’t matter, instead of on the actual exam, where it’s life or death (or a scholarship).

Practice with Others in the Room

Nothing is more distracting on your SAT than hearing someone using scratch paper, sighing, turning pages, cursing, or chuckling confidently while she works her exam. Get used to distractions by taking your practice SAT with friends or others who are also taking the SAT and, therefore, need to practice.

The sounds as they work and sigh and groan or pat themselves on the back (because they also used SAT For Dummies) become less of a distraction as you get used to the noises and the now-present feeling of competition. This also helps your friends improve their scores while they help you improve yours.

Practice as a Dress Rehearsal

Play by the rules of the testing center. No phone, hat, drink, snack, neck brace, or anything that brings a modicum of comfort is allowed within reach in the exam room. Your breaks are short, and your scratch paper is your test booklet. If this is not something that you’re used to, it will drive you nuts on exam day, so make sure it’s a road that you’ve been down before, and it won’t be as bad.

Do you get thirsty? Hungry? Uncomfortable? Chilly? What do you wish you had: water, a sandwich, a power bar, coffee, aspirin? Keep these thoughts in mind and plan accordingly on test day. You have access to your personal belongings during the breaks, so bring these things in a bag and grab a quick refreshment during your break.

Practice Your Competitive Edge

The practice test doesn’t matter, so why try hard? In the third hour of the practice, you’re exhausted, and you just want to get through it — and that’s okay because it’s a practice test, right?

Wrong. If you’ve never tried as hard as you can for four or five hours, you won’t do it easily on exam day. You may intend to, but working at half effort on the practice exam is a hard habit to break, and it carries to the real thing.

It’s like running a race by yourself versus running a race against someone else: You try harder when others are in the game. One way to get around this is by recording your scores and trying to beat your last performance. Another way is to try to beat a friend’s score. The best way, though, is to take the practice exam with a friend in the room also taking the same exam. Try to beat this person: This makes it real and competitive, and you’ll bring this edge to the actual exam.

Practice Your Test-Taking Strategies

As you study and practice, you develop strategies for taking the exam. Maybe you work all the easy math questions first and then go back to the tougher questions. Maybe you try different ways to take on the SAT Reading Test. These strategies give you control over the exam, but different strategies work for different test-takers. What works for you? What doesn’t? What does it depend on? You should know the answers to these questions before you take the actual exam.

As you take the practice SATs, focus on your strategies. You will find things that work and things that don’t, or you’ll find your own take on an established strategy. Finding and honing your strategies that work is a very important part of your prep process, but do this before test day.

One thing you could do is go through a practice SAT that you’ve already worked. Because the questions are familiar to you, you can focus more on the test-taking strategies.

Practice Using the Bubble Sheet

Students hate the bubble sheet. They practice and circle the answers in the test booklet, and they stop right there. Like it or not, the bubble sheet is part of the exam, and I’ve seen enough practice exams where the math or English question is answered correctly in the booklet but bubbled incorrectly on the sheet. It counts just as wrong, and the student is mad.

One student refused to practice with a bubble sheet. Then he took the actual SAT, and he told me after that he had somehow bubbled two answers on a single line! I think he had also lost count of which line he was on, so he missed a lot of questions. This was a top-scoring student who consistently answered 19 out of 20 questions correctly in practice, but he bombed the exam because he wasn’t used to the bubble sheet. This didn’t have to happen.

Practice Finding Your Areas of Focus

Do you struggle more with reading Science or Social Studies passages? Do you handle triangles better than you do exponents? Do you lose steam (causing your performance to drop) by the third hour? Do you run out of time? With these practice SATs, you can get a sense of how you work and where you need to focus, and then you can close those gaps. You cannot fix your gaps unless you find them first. There are no truer words.

Review the Practice SAT Answers and Explanations

After taking a four- or five-hour practice SAT, the last thing you probably want to do is spend time reviewing answers and explanations, so take a well-deserved break and save the answers and explanations for later. But be sure to review them.

After you’re rested, take the following steps to review:

  1. Identify which questions you answered incorrectly.
  2. Read the answer explanations and review any relevant material so you’re prepared for a similar question next time.
  3. Fully close that gap by practicing similar questions from 1,001 SAT Practice Questions For Dummies (also published by Wiley).

Here’s another thing you can do. While you’re taking the exam, mark any questions you’re not sure of, and read the explanations for those answers after the practice. This way, even if you guessed correctly, you’ll review that question along with the ones that you missed.

Review the Practice SAT with Other Students

After taking a practice SAT along with your friends who are also taking the practice SAT, or even if your friends took the practice SAT separately, review your practice exam along with them. For each question that you miss, your friend can explain it to you; or if your friend also missed it, you can seek the answer together. Your friend will also have missed questions that you got right, so you can explain those to them! You boost their scores while they boost yours.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Ron Woldoff founded National Test Prep to help students reach their goals on college entrance exams. He created the programs and curricula for these tests from scratch, and he has taught his own test prep programs at various Arizona high schools, colleges, and universities.

Geraldine Woods has more than 35 years of teaching experience. She is the author of more than 50 books, including English Grammar Workbook For Dummies and Research Papers For Dummies.

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