For Your Weekly Practice SAT you want to be relatively fresh for each section you take. That means you shouldn’t take it when you’re tired, stressed, etc. Best to leave your practice test alone if you don’t have the energy and time to focus. You want to know how you’ll do on the real SAT, not how you’ll perform when you’re overly tired.
So, take it when you’re fresh, preferably early in the morning after breakfast or sometime during the day when you’ve had time to relax a little (read: not looking at homework or computer screens) before sitting down to take a section.
Three Different Plans For Taking Your Weekly Practice SAT
Plan A: You take all of the test at one sitting
Basically, you take section 1 and then give yourself a 10-minute break. Then, take sections 2 & 3, followed by a 5-minute break. Finally, you finish with section 4. Altogether, this takes a little over 3 hours.
You will want to use Plan A for at least your first practice test and your last practice test before your real SAT. That way you have an accurate gauge of your baseline score of your first practice test along with an estimate (-80 to +20) of your last practice test.
Plan B: You break the test into 2 parts
Typically, you’d take Sections 1 & 2 on the same day with a 10-minute break between them. Then, on another day within the same week as the first 2 sections, you take the last 2 multiple choice sections. Or, you could take 2 sections one day and the other 2 the next. It’s up to you which sections you take each day.
You’d opt for this plan if it is too difficult for you to schedule Plan A for all of your practice tests. Plan B is the preferred plan as many college-bound students have busy schedules. Also, you want to keep in mind that you want to practice as you’d perform, so it’s better that you are fresh or relatively fresh while taking a practice test. That means you are not:
-Driving or being driven (don’t even ask)
-Worrying about homework or other tasks you need to attend to
-Distracted by music/noise from within your home or from a neighbor
-Taking it after 9pm
Bob, a fictionalized student, would tell me: Oh, when I took my practice SAT it was loud, it was late at night, I hadn’t eaten, I was worried about my finals, and the cops were in a shootout down the street the whole time during my practice test. I guess you could say I was a little distracted.
Moral of the story: Don’t be like BOB!
Instead, take your practice SAT when you are ready and in an area where you won’t be disturbed while you’re taking it.
Plan C: You break up your sections so that you’re taking one section almost daily
That is, you take section 1 Monday, Section 2 Tuesday, etc.
This plan C allows for a lot of flexibility and is attractive to a lot of students. If you cannot opt for Plan A or Plan B, choose Plan C.
However, be warned that your real SAT score will likely be anywhere from 20-80 points lower than the average composite of your 2 most recent practice tests. Part of this is the fatigue factor. We all lose a little bit of our ability to focus and be careful when we’re under a cognitive load for hours at a time. Also, most students will tend to decline in performance due to nerves.
This is normal. Don’t beat yourself up over it. We just want an accurate gauge of your real SAT performance, so use these as rules of thumb.
Fluctuating Scores On Your Weekly Practice SAT
Your score will fluctuate, both on practice tests and your real SAT. You will want to plan strategically so you can reach your score goal.
For example, if your goal is a 1300 on your next particular SAT, you’ll want your last 2 practice tests to average in the 1320-1360 range. If you’re taking a full practice test per sitting, your score drop could be anywhere from 20-40 points. If you split your practice tests into 2 or more sittings, your score drop might be more in the 30-80 point range.
Keep in mind this is a worst-case-scenario rule of thumb. But, nerves on the real test are to be expected. To combat this, you’ll want to take a full practice test at least once weekly. That way, you’ll be inured to the test-taking process. Taking a full SAT for you will be just like any other day you’ve taken your 8+ practice tests leading up to the real event. It’s just that you’ll drive to a school nearby surrounded by other panicky teenagers trying to act like it’s cool and everything’s ok.
Comments On Test-taking Anxiety
I’m not attacking anxiety. Quite the opposite. It’s normal to feel anxious, worried, and even scared while taking the test. It’s okay to feel panic during the test when you encounter a question that’s giving you fits. That’s what your practice tests are for. As you repeatedly encounter difficult, even troubling questions, you’ll feel deep down that, “Oh, I’ve felt this way before and survived. No big deal. I’ll survive again. My panic will eventually dissipate.”
What You Will Need To Take A Weekly Practice SAT:
-A phone so you can scan your practice test answers
-The Daily practice for the SAT app (free from the College Board)
-Your college board ID
-A printer so you can print out the 5 pages of answer sheets per test
-A pencil (not kidding; I’ve had a student believe that it’s okay to take the test in pen)
Optional, but helpful:
The Official SAT Study Guide: this beats printing out 60+ pages of the test or having to scroll through the test on a computer screen, especially for the reading comprehension and WALT sections
College Panda Math Guide: best single guide for the math section of the SAT. Nielson Phu pulls practice questions from practice SATs. ANd the questions I’ve seen are the same difficulty level and same topics as seen on the real test. This is no mean feat as the rest of the math prep books I’ve seen fall short on one or both counts.
How It All Works : Taking Your Weekly Practice SAT
Ideally, you’re taking a full SAT at one sitting every Saturday or Sunday morning. You’ll want to start making this a habit from 5-10 weeks out from the test. As mentioned elsewhere in this article, there are a few variations of this that are acceptable.
To that end, you’ll want to take a practice test weekly.
College Panda’s SAT Math
As you want to increase your score by hook or by crook, I recommend you work out of the College Panda’s SAT Math Advanced Guide and Workbook. With this book, you can work on math whenever you have time, even if you have as little as 15 minutes.
If you’re good at math, most of it will be a review of long-forgotten concepts and equations. The rest will prep you for the tricks of the test and teach you to pay close attention to what the question is asking. Many strong math students are surprised that they aren’t scoring in the 700+ range out of the gates. Part of the reason is that students in precalculus and above have lost familiarity with many of the formulas and techniques they need to master the easier type of questions on the test.
Even if math is not your favorite subject, the College Panda Math Book will cover the concepts you need. For those of you who want to target your weakest areas, you can select the topics you need to brush up on. Fortunately, the book is divided into chapters by topic.
Generally, it seems the book is structured so that the more frequently tested questions and more basic topics are closer to the front with those topics less frequently tested and more advanced are nearer the back. Yes, there are a handful of stats topics on the real SAT and those are nearer the end of the book. This is just a general rule about the layout of the book.
Use it. Be sure to check all your answers. For the wrong ones, take time to see the method Nielson uses to arrive at the correct answer. Then, at least copy the steps so your brain gets at least one more rep of the correct way of solving the problem.
Programs For Your TI-84 Calculator
You probably know the TI 84 calculator is legal for Section 4 (math, calculator) on the SAT. Also, you are allowed programs on your calculator. If you’re a student of mine, just ask for a download of the programs during your next session. We can take 20-30 minutes to cover what these programs can do.
If you want a list of the programs that help on the SAT, please look at the bottom of this page:
By the very least you’ll want to read the list. When you come in for your next session, we can spend about 15-20 minutes walking through them. That way, you’ll be a little more familiar with how they work.
Within the next few months I’ll upload them so that students can download the set onto their TI-84 via the mcstutoring.com site.
Your Goal For Your Weekly Practice SAT
Remember, you’re working toward small, incremental improvements. Your emotions will swing up and down. That’s normal. So, too, will your score per section. It’s just that as you take more practice tests, you’ll usually see less of a swing and more a gradual improvement. Be relaxed about the process.
DO NOT SHARE YOUR WEEKLY PRACTICE SAT SCORES WITH ANYONE! Comparison is the thief of joy. And it is a pestilence upon the spirit of those preparing for the SAT. Just keep mum about your practice scores.
Make a list of the schools you’re thinking about. Then you can check to see if you need to take subject tests. Sometimes it’s based not on the school so much as you’re major or college of study within the school (engineering, arts & sciences, architecture, etc.) In any case, you can just call them or check their websites for more information. Even though some admissions officers answering the phone might sound a little bureaucratic, they are there to help answer your questions.
You’ll also want to check about early admission/early decision. In some cases, their policy might be binding and allow you to do early decision to one school. Just check.
Final Thoughts On Your Weekly Practice SAT
Last bit of unsolicited advice: keep sleeping ok. Sleep as much as you can during the week and be sure to catch up on sleep during the weekends. Many of us operate under the delusion that sleep isn’t necessary or that we can function fine without it. Sleep deprivation affects cognitive function, can cause depressive thoughts, and can even cause weight gain.
So, be sure to sleep enough. You’ll feel better if you keep regular sleep habits.
Good luck. May you do well on your real SAT tests!