SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Can You Use Old Practice SATs to Study for the New SAT?

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Apr 6, 2016 10:00:00 PM

SAT Strategies




Since the SAT has just been redesigned, you might feel like there aren’t very many practice questions around for you to use. The College Board has released four free practice tests, but once you get through those, what should you do?

You might be wondering if you can use old SAT practice tests to study for the new SAT. The answer is yes, you can! I will show you how.

Read on to see why you would want to use old practice tests, what practice tests won’t do for you, and then a how-to guide on the most effective way to use old tests to prep for each section. Finally, I’ll also briefly discuss using the ACT for new SAT prep, since the tests are surprisingly similar.


Why to Use Old SAT Practice Tests

Simply put, you should use old practice tests if you want to increase your stock of practice questions! While you will have to be careful to skip the irrelevant questions, and there are some new question types you won’t be able to prep for using old tests, they are still a valuable resource, especially if you need extra questions to work on a particular section or skill.

While the SAT has been redesigned, many of the question types are still the same between the old and new tests, so you can use old tests for practice questions for those question types. I will break down which question types to use and which ones to skip in the next sections.

They are also useful because they are official College Board materials, and you can expect rigorous quality control from the official makers of the SAT more so than from most prep book or test prep companies--so no situations where the correct answer is actually ambiguous, for example. You know old tests were really administered to students, which means those questions are College Board-approved!


So high quality they should put this seal on them!


What Old SAT Tests Won't Help You With

Taking an entire old test from start to finish won’t really prepare you for the experience of sitting down to take the new SAT, so don’t do that. The overall tests are too different structurally for taking the old SAT to give you a good sense of what taking the new one will be like. If you want to take a complete test to get a sense of what your SAT experience will be like on test day, take one of the College Board’s four complete free practice tests for the redesigned SAT instead of an old one.

Old tests also won’t help you practice the new SAT essay. Instead of a 25-minute opinion-based essay as on the old SAT, the revised SAT gives you 50 minutes to analyze an argument. These are completely different in form and content, so looking at old SAT essay prompts is a waste of time.

Now I’ll move through each section in turn and describe how best to use it to prepare. I’ll go over what question types to use, which question types to skip, and what’s missing from the old SAT that is tested in the new one. All of my old SAT question examples will come from the 2014-2015 Practice SAT, and my new SAT question examples will come from Practice Test 1.



With all these questions you'll be as prepared as this lady! And she looks ready.


Using Old SAT Practice Tests: Reading

The Reading section has not changed too dramatically with the revision, so you’ll be able to use most of the old Reading questions to practice for the revised SAT. The primary changes are that all of the questions are now passage-based, passages are longer, and Sentence Completion questions have been eliminated.


Old SAT Reading: Questions to Use

Using any and all of the passage-based questions will help you prep for the new SAT. The Old SAT has some very short (i.e. one paragraph) passages, while the revised SAT only has longer passages, but the questions are similar and useful for practice.


Old SAT Reading: Questions to Skip

The redesigned SAT has done away with Sentence Completion questions. There were complaints that these unfairly prioritized arcane vocabulary knowledge. So when you see these on old SATs, skip them. 




Old SAT Reading: What's Missing

Old SAT Reading did not have any charts or graphs integrated into the passages and questions. New SAT does, so be sure to study those! (If you want more practice questions to do with reading charts, skip down to the “Practicing with the ACT” section). 




Old tests did not have any Evidence Support question pairs. These are question pairs in which you are first asked to identify something about the passage, then to select evidence from the passage to support your answer.




Using Old SAT Practice Tests: Writing

Writing has changed the most of any test. While the old SAT had very few passage-based writing questions, the revised SAT is entirely passage-based in the Writing section. There aren’t very many one-to-one matches on question types between the old and new SAT, but you might still find some of the old SAT practice questions useful.


Old SAT Writing: Questions to Use

Passage Revision--these are questions that ask you to edit a “rough draft” of a passage or essay. While the errors in these passages are a little more focused on style, and the revised SAT writing section is more focused on skilled argumentation, these questions are still helpful for getting a feel for answering passage-based SAT writing questions.



Even though the specific format of the Sentence Error question type--where you had to choose from five potential errors in one sentence--is missing from the revised SAT, doing old Sentence Error questions is still a good way to drill down on your grammar skills. You should be aware, though, that the revised test does have a slightly different grammatical focus.  The old SAT often tested dangling modifiers and subject/verb agreement in tricky ways, while the revised SAT has a greater emphasis on punctuation and common English usage. But if you need to work on your grammar, practicing those skills with Sentence Error questions is a fine way to do so.




Similarly, the Sentence Improvement question type, in which you have to edit a single sentence for grammatical clarity, no longer exists on the revised SAT. But you may be asked sentence-improvement like questions on the revised SAT in the context of the passage-based questions.  So knowing how to approach these in isolation will help brush up on your grammar and writing-style skills, which will be useful for the revised test.




Old SAT Writing: Questions to Skip

The essay - the 25-minute “opinion” essay from the old SAT used to comprise part of your writing score. The new essay is 50 minutes, asks you to evaluate another author’s argument expressed in a passage, and is a completely separate score from your 1600-point score. Don’t write any old essay prompts; they won’t help you at all on the new SAT.



The old essay: as obsolete as this car.


Old SAT Writing: What's Missing

Old tests really don’t have the same format and feel as the revised SAT. The revised SAT asks all questions and question types--those on grammar, writing style, organization, argumentation--based on passages, while the old SAT has very few passage-based questions. So while the old SAT writing section will help you brush up on your grammar, style, and editing skills, it really won’t give you a great sense of what the writing section of the revised SAT is actually like.




To practice more passage-based writing questions once you’ve used all four free practice tests, you might turn to the ACT English section, which is passage-based. (More on using the ACT for new SAT practice below.)

Additionally, the writing section now includes questions that involve graphs and charts: both interpreting them and understanding how they act as evidence for arguments.





Using Old SAT Practice Tests: Math

The primary changes in Math are that the questions are distributed differently across topics, a small amount of trigonometry has been added, and logic-type problems have been eliminated. For a complete breakdown of these changes, see our guide to the revised SAT.


Old SAT Math: Questions to Use

The truth is that you can use most of the questions on the old SAT to practice for new SAT Math. However, you should be aware that old tests contain a different percentage of some of the question types than the revised SAT. For example, the old SAT contains much more geometry than the revised SAT. 


Old SAT Math: Questions to Skip

The revised SAT has done away with “logic problem” type questions, so if you see any of those, skip them. There were usually only 1-2 on the old SAT anyways.




Old SAT Math: What's Missing From Old Tests

The revised SAT has two no-calculator sections: one for grid-ins, and one for multiple choice. The old SAT was all-calculator. You might try working on some of the less calculation-heavy questions on the old SAT without a calculator to practice answering math problems without one.

The new SAT involves more “real-world” type questions and word problems.



The revised SAT now has multi-part questions, in which the answer to one question affects the answers to the following question. It’s very important to get the first question correct or you could have a negative cascade effect!




The revised SAT also contains some basic trigonometry questions, which is a new topic area for the SAT.




Practicing For the New SAT With the ACT

The revised SAT is actually more similar in many ways to the ACT than the old SAT. Both exams have four answer choices per question, there is no guessing penalty, and the Reading and Writing (or English in the case of the ACT) tests are entirely passage-based. For this reason, you may wish to practice with ACT questions.

The key difference (other than the scoring scale) is that the ACT has four sections to the SAT’s three—English, which corresponds to SAT Writing, Reading, Math, and Science. While it has no directly corresponding section on the SAT, practice questions from the Science test will be very helpful in preparing for the data-based questions on all sections of the revised SAT. I’ll go over questions to use, ones to skip, and what’s missing from the ACT that’s covered on the SAT.



Science: the fourth section on the ACT.


ACT: Questions To Use

There are questions you could use to prep for the new SAT in all four sections of the ACT. 



You can use all of them! The ACT is focused slightly more on reading comprehension, but the general idea--read and interpret a passage--is the same.



You can (and should!) use most of the questions on the English section of the ACT for SAT Writing practice. Not only is it great practice for the passage-based style of the revised SAT, many of the questions offer similar tasks as those on the SAT. The ACT is slightly more focused on grammar, however, while the SAT really hones in on writing style.



You can use most of the questions on ACT math to practice for revised SAT math. However, you should be aware that there is more geometry and trigonometry on the ACT than the revised SAT. Additionally, you may see one or two topics on the ACT that aren’t covered on the SAT, like matrices, logarithms, graphs of trig functions, and even scientific notation!



ACT Science questions are passage-based, which is good practice for answering the data interpretation questions linked to the passages for the revised SAT’s Writing and Reading tests. The questions that will be most useful, however, will be those about interpreting data and figures. So focus on those and skip the rest. 





ACT: Questions to Skip

Save SAT prep time by skipping unnecessary questions. 



No need to skip any reading questions. However, it’s worth noting that unlike on the SAT, questions on the ACT are not “in order”—the questions on a particular passage don’t move through the passage from start to finish, but instead may jump around A question may ask about the beginning of the passage, then the next may ask about the very end. This is just something keep in mind in terms of differences when you are using the ACT for practice.


You can skip the questions asking if the author fulfilled their purpose in the passage and why, as there is no similar question style on the revised SAT Writing test. There is normally about one of these “author’s purpose” questions per passage, towards the end of the questions on a particular passage.





You may want to skip the occasional question on logarithms, matrices, graphs of trig functions, and scientific notation, since you won’t see these things on the SAT.



You can skip any question on the science test that’s not directly concerned with interpreting or representing data. This would include questions about hypothesis testing, experimental design, the scientific method, and so on.




What's Missing From the ACT That's Covered on the New SAT

There are some key question types missing from the ACT that you need to be prepared to see on the SAT.



There are no Evidence Support question pairs on the ACT. Remember, evidence support question pairs involve answering a question about the passage and then providing evidence to support that answer in the following question.

The Reading test on the ACT also does not include any questions on charts or data. These questions are covered on the Science test.



The English section on the ACT does not involve charts and graphs as on the revised SAT's Writing section, probably because these skills are tested on the Science section.



The ACT math section lacks two key features that the revised SAT has: a no-calculator section, and grid-in questions. You may want to try solving ACT questions without a calculator when reasonable for some no-calculator practice. Also, practice ACT questions are all multiple-choice, so they won’t help you prepare for the SAT’s free-response grid-ins.



Be prepared to be without this on the SAT! (The calculator, not your hand.)


Where To Find Old SAT Practice Tests and ACT Tests

The College Board and ACT, Inc. have kindly published free practice tests. We've collected them here for you.


Old SAT Tests

2014-2015 Practice SAT | Answers

2013-2014 Practice SAT | Answers

2007-2008 Practice SAT (includes answers)

2004-2005 Practice SAT (includes answers)


Practice ACT Tests

ACT Practice Test 2015-2016 (Form 72CPRE)

ACT Practice Test 2014-15 (Form 67C)

ACT Practice Test 2011-12 (Form 64E)

ACT Practice Test 2008-09 (Form 61C)

ACT Practice Test 2005-06 (Form 59F)



A soothing rock pile in case you get overwhelmed by all these tests.


Key Takeaways

You can use old SAT tests as a resource for practice questions for the revised SAT. Old tests won’t give you the same feel as taking the revised test from start to finish, but many of the question types are similar. Writing has changed the most out of any of the sections; revised SAT Writing is much more similar to the ACT than the old SAT.

In addition to old SAT tests, you can also use the ACT to prep for the new SAT. The English section and questions on the Science section about interpreting data and graphs may be particularly useful.

There may only be 4 official free revised SAT practice tests available, but between old SATs and the ACT you can still build up a substantial stock of practice questions!


What's Next?

Check out our complete expert guide to the revised SAT. 

Need more prep materials? See our reviews of the best SAT prep books for 2016. 

If you're wondering how important your SAT score is, read our breakdown of the SAT and admissions. 

Taking the ACT? See our complete index of critical ACT prep articles. 


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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