Choosing the best way to practice for the SAT can be difficult; there are a lot of study options out there, but not all of them may give you an accurate indicator of how well you’ll do on test day. Taking SAT practice tests under realistic testing conditions is a great way to practice for the SAT and get an estimate what your score will be on the real test.
There are many free SAT practice tests available that you can take in your own home, however; it can be challenging to simulate real test-taking conditions. The closer the conditions of your practice test are to the real SAT, the more useful and accurate your results will be. Read on to learn how you can recreate realistic testing conditions at home in order to get the most accurate results from SAT practice tests.
This guide will give you all the information you need to create realistic testing conditions for a practice SAT exam. There are eight recommendations to follow in order to have an ultra realistic practice test:
Take a complete test
Have the required materials
Have a set starting time
Simulate a classroom environment
Have an “official test” mindset
Keep strict timing on each section
Use only official breaks
- Review your exam results
Benefits of Realistic Practice Test Conditions
Like other methods of preparing for the SAT, taking practice tests can help you become more familiar with the types of questions that are asked on the exam and identify subject areas you should focus your future studying on.
Taking a practice test in a realistic setting is even better because it gives you the most accurate sense of how you're scoring and helps you feel comfortable with and prepared for the test day proceedings. Let's go over the benefits of realistic testing in more depth so you know why this extra hassle is worth the effort.
More Accurate Scores
The closer your practice SAT is to real test-taking conditions, the more accurate your scores will be because your practice tests will take many variables into account, such as if you were able to finish each section before time ran out and how well you were able to concentrate with only limited breaks.
Having more accurate scores gives you a better estimate of what your total SAT score would be, as well as how well you would do on each separate test section. This will let you more accurately determine what your strengths and weaknesses are and make your future studying more effective.
Better Understanding of How Test Length Affects You
SATs are long tests: the current version, including breaks, takes roughly four hours, if you include the optional essay. While answering individual practice questions can help you improve your score, taking full-length practice tests help you learn how well you hold up after several hours of testing.
For example, you may discover that your scores drop on the later sections of the test because you find it harder to stay focused. You may not have discovered this information if you’d never taken a full-length practice test under realistic conditions, and it gives you something to prepare for. Taking multiple full-length practice tests will also increase your test-taking stamina, so you're less likely to run out of energy during the real SAT.
Less Anxiety About the Test
The more familiar you are with something, the less worrisome it becomes. By making your practice exam test conditions close to those of the real SAT, you will become more familiar with the exam and its format, so that when you take the SAT you will know what to expect and will likely be more relaxed and prepared.
How to Make Practice Testing as Realistic as Possible
#1: Take a Complete Test
In order to make your practice test as realistic as possible, you should take a complete practice test. The College Board currently has four official practice tests for the SAT available.
Taking an official practice test is important because it will keep your practice test experience as realistic as possible and give you the most accurate estimate of what your scores will be on the real SAT.
Before you begin the test, print off the entire exam and its instructions so that you are ready to go. For your practice test, you should bubble in the answers on the answer sheet, just like you would for the real SAT.
#2: Have the Required Materials
The SAT has very specific rules on what you must bring, can bring, and are forbidden to bring on test day. Learn these rules ahead of time and follow them during your practice test.
The SAT requires you to bring:
- Photo ID (such as a driver’s license or school ID)
- Your SAT admission ticket with your photo printed on it
- Two No. 2 pencils, with erasers
- Calculator: try and use the same calculator you plan to use for the real SAT, and make sure it meets the SAT’s calculator requirements
Have these four things with you for the practice exam (using a blank sheet of paper that represents your admission ticket), so that you get used to remembering to bring them.
Other things you should bring:
- A watch: this will help you keep track of your time because you can never be sure if there will be a clock visible during the test. Make sure your watch doesn’t beep though, because that is grounds to get you dismissed from the exam.
- Snacks and water: the SAT is a long test and having something to eat and drink during the break can help keep your energy up.
Do not have cameras, notebooks, or your own scratch paper with you during your practice test, and if you have your phone near you, make sure it is turned off for the entire exam.
#3: Have a Set Starting Time
You and the parent who is proctoring you should establish beforehand when you will take your SAT. In order to be as similar to a real SAT as possible, this practice test should begin when real SATs do: at 8:00am on a Saturday.
This is early, but taking your practice test at that time will help you be better prepared for the real SAT and know how well you function that early in the morning. Regard this start time as unchangeable. You cannot push it back or change it, even if you accidentally ended up staying out with your friends late the night before, decide you want work out, or want to watch some Netflix. You won’t be able to delay the start time of the real SAT, so don’t do it for the practice SAT either.
Get up early enough so that by 8:00 AM, you're sitting at the desk or table where you’ll take the exam, with all your materials ready.
#4: Simulate a Classroom Environment
The room where you’ll be taking your practice SAT should be as close to a classroom as possible, because that's likely where you’ll take the actual exam. Don’t take your test while sitting on the couch or in a room that other family members will frequently be walking through.
Pick a quiet room where you and your proctor you will be undisturbed, and sit at a desk or table. Only have necessary materials around you.
Your phone should also be turned off and put away like it will be for the real exam. This is very important to remember because having your phone on for the real SAT is enough to get you kicked out of the exam and your scores tossed out.
#5: Have an "Official Test" Mindset
Both you and your proctor should have the mindset throughout the entire test that this a realistic practice exam and should be as close to a real SAT as possible. The person acting as your proctor (likely your parent), should act as much like an official proctor as possible. This means things like reading instructions aloud, not making jokes, and not watching TV or listening loudly to music while you’re taking the test.
You should take this test as seriously as you would a real SAT. Don’t ask for extra time, don’t try to check your phone during the test, don’t skip questions just because you got tired and know this isn’t a “real” test. If you wouldn’t do it during the real SAT, don’t do it during this practice exam.
Taking a practice test under realistic conditions can provide you with a very accurate example of how you’d score on the real SAT, which can significantly help your future studying and raise your score for the actual exam, so take the practice test seriously.
#6: Keep Strict Timing on Each Test Section
This is one of the most important things you can do to help make your results from your practice SAT as accurate as possible. Not only is the SAT long, but it also includes a lot of questions in each section. Taking the test under real timing conditions will help you get used to the time pressures of the SAT and improve your time management skills.
Your practice test will state how long you have for each section, and your proctor should follow the SAT’s time restrictions exactly. Have your proctor keep track of the time with a watch or timer, announcing when you have five minutes left in each section. You can also keep track of the time with your watch, if you’re wearing one.
As soon as your proctor calls time, set your pencil down. Do not ask for or try to take any additional time. Even adding two extra minutes to a section can allow you to answer several more questions, which will give you an inflated and less accurate score. If you finish a section before time is called, do not move onto the next section to try and finish the test sooner. Just like you would for the real SAT, review your answers for that section until time is called.
#7: Use Only Official Breaks
The SAT has only three breaks, each between five and ten minutes long. These breaks usually come after the 2nd, 4th, and 6th sections of the exam. For the redesigned SAT, there will likely be two breaks, a ten-minute break after the writing section and a five-minute break before the essay. During your practice test, you should only take breaks at these times, and only for the specific amount of time allowed. Like strictly timing your sections, this will get you more used to the challenges of taking a long test with few breaks, which will let you see if this affects your score and help you improve your test-taking endurance.
During these breaks, don’t do things you wouldn’t be able to do during the real SAT breaks, like check your phone, go on the computer, or go outside. You can (and should) use these breaks to get up and stretch, sharpen your pencils, use the bathroom, and eat the snacks or drinks you brought with you.
Optional: Take Your Practice Test With Others
This isn’t a requirement, but if you have other friends studying for the SAT, it can be helpful to take your practice tests at the same time. Doing so will make your practice test closer to the real thing because you’ll take the real SAT with other people in the room, and, when you do, you’ll be more used to noises other test takers can make, like rustling papers or tapping their feet.
#8: Grade and Review Your Exam
Once you've finished with the entire test, take a short break before reviewing your answers. This can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Either you or your proctor should grade your multiple choice answers. If you included the writing section, try to have two other people grade it, following the SAT’s essay rubric. Also check out our guide on converting your raw score into a scaled score.
Now you have your score for your practice SAT, but you’re not finished yet. You should review each question you got wrong or guessed on, working to understand what mistakes you made and how you can avoid making them again in the future. If you skip this step, your SAT scores likely won’t improve much, no matter how many practice tests you take because you’ll keep repeating the same mistakes. Check out our guide on the best way to review missed questions on the SAT.
We also have a ton of resources to help you study for the SAT and raise your score. Check some of them out below.
SAT Study Resources
Want to learn ways to boost your SAT score? Learn the 15 SAT tricks you should be using.
Don't have a lot of time to study for the SAT? Learn the best last-minute study tips you should use.
Wondering when you should begin your SAT prep? We have a step-by-step guide that tells you how long you should study for the SAT.
Wondering what other study options there are beyond official practice tests? Learn about smart alternatives to official tests.
Aiming for a 1600 on the SAT? Check out our guide on how to get a perfect SAT score.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.