Series: STUDYING FOR THE SAT
First Practice Test
Depending on your school, most students will take a PSAT in the fall of tenth grade, and it may feel necessary to prepare well in advance of that milestone. At Fresh Slate, we receive requests from students to begin studying the SAT as early as fifth grade! However, outside of testing for specialized programs, we generally do not recommend starting to practice earlier than this first PSAT.
However, if you and your tutor are ready for you to take a first full-length practice test, and you can foresee a free block of 4.5 hours, please skip ahead to the section about preparing for the first at-home assessment. We’ve created a handy schedule and gathered together all the printed materials you will need to take one full-length practice test (we chose Practice test 8).
If you have any doubts about being ready, please review the FAQs below.
The College Board (CB) has only released eight genuine practice exams, available for free online and in print. These exams undergo more rigorous internal review and provide a more accurate assessment of students’ SAT performance than practice exams published by test-prep companies.
You should reserve these real tests for when you need accurate assessments: for an initial diagnostic of your abilities, for a milestone (or maybe two) along the way, and for preparation at home on two or three weekends leading up to your scheduled exams. It is a waste of such a limited resource to run through a real SAT every day for a week, only to find that your score hasn’t improved by much, but you only have two genuine tests left.
For simple practice, we encourage students to use test-prep companies’ practice books. These will provide ample material for improving basic skills, but they are not as valuable as the College Board tests.
TLDR: Our recommendation is to wait to use your first practice test when you begin studying in earnest. At that point, you will need your first diagnostic score, and a real SAT is the most accurate way to get it.T
Again, it is all about accuracy.
If you’ve ever witnessed real testing conditions, you will have noticed a strange sluggishness that follows students into the room after the midway break. More heads are docked on desks, and it’s not just pencil tips that have lost their morning sharpness.
The SAT is as much about endurance as it is about your raw skill. So, just like athletes edit their lifestyle during competition season, you must learn how to optimize small elements of your routine so that you can perform at peak, even three hours into the exam.
Did your mid-morning snack of a king size chocolate bar sabotage you? Does your score for a Writing and Language score seem lower during a full test than when you practiced it on its own? Do you sleep enough on the nights (yes, multiple nights) before the test? Do you sleep too much?
TLDR: Play around to find your optimal snacks, sleep levels, and test-taking outfits. But each time you need an assessment, follow the standard 4.5-hour routine (or 3.5-hour routine, if you aren’t practicing the essay).
No, of course not. But if, by this point, you have been convinced to reproduce testing conditions as accurately as possible, you will want to.
Again, when you’re simply practicing passages or grammar skills, use whatever makes you comfortable. But if you’ve already bothered to carve out the time to take a College Board assessment, spend the extra 5 minutes to sharpen some pencils and print out the bubble sheet.
Printed Materials to Prepare
Ideally, you have a way to print out these materials front-and-back (called “duplex” on many printers). But if not, you can always recycle or compost the paper when you’ve finished. Now is not the time to worry about your carbon footprint.
Prepare these materials before your at-home assessment. If your designated proctor (usually a parent or sibling) can have these ready for you, even better:
- If you need a print-out of the test schedule, print a copy of the image above. It’s handy to have for yourself or your informal proctor.
- A copy of any College Board test. As a random first diagnostic, we usually assign Test 8.
- A bubble sheet.
- The corresponding Essay Question from whichever College Board test you choose. Here is Test 8’s essay.
- An essay answer form. If you want something printed in advance, you can use this format.
If you’re using Test 8, you can check your answers yourself and score your bubble sheet using the answers provided by the College Board. You can also, of course, ask your tutor, since he or she is likely to have scored hundreds of these by now.
As for the essay, if you’re working alone, the College Board has provided a rubric to give you some idea of what the readers are looking for. But it’s probably best to ask your tutor, or an experienced SAT essay reader, for an explanation of what you’ve done well and what you could improve.
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