Are you preparing for the SAT by taking practice tests? Awesome! You’re on the right track! How can you ensure that you’re getting the most out of each practice test you take? You need to make sure you’re taking each practice test under realistic testing conditions. What’re you doing (maybe subconsciously) that’s ruining your realistic testing conditions?
#1: Not Timing Yourself
You need to stick to the exact timing of the SAT. If you’re not following the timing, you’re not going to be prepared the day of the test. You need to time yourself on your SAT practice tests so that you get used to the pacing of the test.
It’s like training for a marathon. Don’t show up to a marathon without timing your practice and expect to place! The SAT is a marathon. Time yourself. Get used to the pace, so you don’t have issues on test day!
Not sure the exact time you’re allowed for the SAT? On the SAT, the time allowed for each section is listed on the first page of that section of the practice test. See below:
If you want more guidance, then check out our guide to SAT timing.
#2: Using Your Phone
But, Dora, you just said to time myself, and if I can’t use my phone, how do I time myself? I recommend that you use a watch instead of a phone. If you get used to timing yourself with your phone, you may feel lost the day of the test when you’re not allowed to use your phone. (NOTE: you’re not allowed to have your phone out at all during the test even during breaks).
Instead, buy a cheap watch such as this one which you would be able to use the day of the test. Start using it during your practice so that you get used to pacing yourself with the watch.
What if I use my phone in airplane mode? Don’t do it! Yes, it’s better than using your phone not in airplane mode, but you’ll still have the same issue: you’ll be so used to relying on your phone to pace yourself that you may feel confused using a normal watch/clock the day of the test.
What if I’m using my phone as my calculator? No!!! Your phone will not be permitted the day of the test, so make sure you buy yourself an approved calculator and use it during your SAT math calculator section practice, so you get used to it.
#3: Using Your Calculator On All Sections
Speaking of calculators, remember that you’re only allowed to have your calculator out for one part of the test: the SAT math calculator section. You can’t have your calculator out for the Reading, Writing, or non-calculator Math test. During your practice, you should only use your calculator on the one math section that allows you to use a calculator.
Do not use your calculator on the non-calculator math section. You need to practice your mental math so that you’re prepared to do mental math the day of the test. If during your practice, you use your calculator instead of your brain, you’ll be tempted to do so the day of the test.
#4: Watching TV, Listening to Music, and/or Wearing Ear Plugs
For some students, watching tv and/or listening to music while you take your practice test will serve as a distraction, making them score worse because they can’t concentrate. For other students, watching tv and/or listening to music can serve as an aid, helping them maintain their focus, artificially increasing their score. Either way, you cannot have the TV on nor music playing during your practice tests. You need to get used to taking the test in a quiet environment.
That being said, do not wear ear plugs during your practice. Some students like ear plugs because it cuts out all background noise. However, the College Board does not allow the use of ear plugs during their tests. You need to get used to hearing background noise while you take the test because on your test day, you’ll have background sounds of paper rustling, pencils scratching, erasers rubbing, and more.
Not during practice tests!
#5: Eating and/or Drinking
You will not be allowed to eat or drink during the test. You’ll be allowed to eat and drink outside of your testing room during the scheduled breaks.
Don’t eat or drink while taking practice tests (exception: you can eat and drink during the break). This may sound silly, but it is important. If you're trying to eat and test at the same time, that can be a problematic distraction.
Also, your body gets an energy boost when you have a snack or drink water. If you eat and drink non-stop during your practice, you’ll likely get an energy boost, and the test may seem “easier.” Then, the day of the test you might be surprised when the test seems “longer” and “harder” because you don’t have the added energy from the food and drink.
As I’ve said, the SAT is a marathon. Train for the SAT as such. During your practice, only grab food or drink during the scheduled breaks.
#6: Taking Unscheduled Bathroom Breaks
Just as you won’t be allowed to eat or drink during the test, you also won’t be allowed to leave the room to go to the bathroom during the SAT. You’ll have to wait to go to the bathroom until the schedule breaks. Practice this during your practice tests.
You need to get used to only using the restroom during the scheduled breaks. The last thing you want on your test day is to be thinking about how badly you need to pee while trying to take the test.
I highly recommend using the restroom immediately before the test begins (or you start your practice test).
#7: Not Sitting at a Desk
Where you take the test is important, don’t sit on your couch or your bed! You need to get used to sitting upright. If you lounge on the couch or bed while taking your practice tests, you might feel thrown the day of the test when you’re put in a new, uncomfortable desk.
Set up your practice test environment like the actual SAT test environment. Sit at an empty desk or table with nothing on it other than your practice test booklet, pencils, erasers, and calculator (when allowed).
#8: Splitting the Test Over a Few Days
Remember how I said the SAT is a marathon? Well, runners aren’t allowed to split up a marathon across several days. You need to practice sitting for full-length SAT tests. While you might not have 4 hours every day to sit for a full-length practice test, you need to make sure you sit for at least two full-length practice tests before you take the real SAT.
On the days where you cannot sit for a full-length practice test, you should, at least, complete a full section of the test. For example, sit for the full 25-minute non-calculator math section without taking any breaks. The same rules mentioned in this article apply when you sit for just one section of the test: no food/drink, no music/tv/ear plugs, etc.
#9: Not Bubbling In
It’s easy to forget about the scantron and just to circle the answers in your practice test. However, using a scantron can be confusing, so you don’t want your first time using one to be on the day you take the SAT/ACT.
During your practice tests, practice bubbling in answers as you work through your practice test. You want to get practice bubbling in so that you don’t accidentally bubble in wrong answers the day of the test. If you have time, I recommend double checking your scantron answers with your booklet answers at the end of the section, so you make sure you didn’t accidentally bubble any incorrectly.
#10: Using Pen
Since you need to practice bubbling in, you also need to practice using a pencil and eraser! You’re required to use a pencil on the SAT. NOTE: You cannot use a mechanical pencil. You can only use a regular #2 pencil.
Take your SAT practice tests using these supplies. The day of the SAT you want to walk into your test center feeling confident and comfortable. To do that, you need your practice to mimic the real testing environment as much as possible! Get used to having these supplies on your desk. Get used to sharpening a broken pencil with your hand sharpener!
If you’re anything like me, any little issue can spike your nerves during a big test. Practice with pencils, erasers, and a pencil sharpener, so you don’t get nervous using them the day of the test.
Get your pencils ready!
#11: Using Any Support Material
Do not use any extra materials during your practice tests. As I’ve mentioned, the day of the test, you won’t be allowed to have anything on your desk except for your test booklet, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, and your calculator (only during the calculator math section). Only use those materials during your practice!
Do not use a formula cheat sheet (other than what’s provided in the SAT math section if you’re taking the SAT), and do not use a dictionary to look up words! During the test, you will not be able to use any outside resources, so do not incorporate them into your practice.
If there are words you don’t know during your SAT practice test, try to figure out what they mean by using context clues (use the words around that word to figure out what the word means). Try your best to answer the questions without looking the word up. Circle the words you don’t know so that after you finish your practice test, you can easily find those words and look them up in a dictionary.
Summary: How to Get Realistic Practice
All of the above can be summarized simply: obey the rules of the test during your practice! Realistic practice will prepare you the best to ace the test and make you feel confident and comfortable the day of the test.
Still unsure of how to get realistic practice? Check out our guide to making your practice test just like the real thing.
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.