Why You Should Be Taking Full-Length Practice Tests

Preparing for the SAT or ACT involves more than just understanding content and mastering strategies; it also includes conditioning yourself for the marathon that is test day. Full-length practice tests play an indispensable role in this preparation, helping you build endurance, manage time, and simulate the actual testing environment. Here are three reasons why dedicating time to taking full-length practice exams is essential for achieving your best score.

It Simulates the Test-Day Experience

Squeezing two to three uninterrupted hours into your study schedule to sit for a full-length practice test can seem impractical, but doing so is a critical investment in your test-day success. Practice with taking an entire SAT or ACT is the closest you can get to the actual experience of taking the test, from the strict timing of each section to the order in which you’ll be tested on the exams’ sections. For best results, consider taking your practice test in a “neutral” location, such as a library study room, where you can’t “get comfortable” in the way you might be tempted to at home. If you're registered to take a digital exam, make sure to practice in the platform you'll be using on test day. By acclimating yourself to the test’s duration, pacing, intensity, and software, you’ll be working toward making the real exam feel like just another practice session—familiar and less intimidating.

It Builds Endurance

Among the greatest challenges the SAT and ACT present are keeping your focus sharp and your energy up through hours of rigorous testing. This is where the value of full-length practice tests becomes undeniable.

Imagine you’re training for a 5K race. To prepare, you’d almost certainly want to run a full 5K (and probably more than one) to ensure that you’d be prepared for the endurance challenge to come. What you wouldn’t do is limit your training to running only 1-mile intervals and then expect to perform optimally on race day. And yet, this is often how students approach their test prep—by focusing solely on individually timed sections without experiencing the entirety of the test in one sitting.

While practicing taking the tests’ individual sections can certainly be a valuable exercise (much like running 1-mile intervals can be valuable to a 5K runner in training), taking full-length practice tests is akin to completing those crucial long-distance runs before a race. In doing so, you’ll build the mental stamina needed to keep you from running out of gas on the test’s final mile.

It Helps You Determine Which Problem-Solving Strategies Will Work Best for You

For many students, taking a full-length practice test can be a startling wake-up call to a certain fact: the problem solving methods that work for you during untimed study sessions might not cut it amid the unique stressors of the testing environment.

Take, for example, a systems of equations math problem. In a no-pressure scenario, you might lean towards an algebraic solution, methodically working through the problem step by step. Under the ticking clock of a full-length test, however, you may realize that this method is too time-consuming to be viable on test day. Accordingly, you may need to turn to alternative strategies, such as working backwards by plugging in the answer choices to see which of them solves the system (a tactic often useful on the ACT) or leveraging tools like the Desmos graphing calculator built into the Digital SAT’s interface.

You don’t want the first time you realize that your strategies aren’t efficient enough to be when you’re actually running out of time on test day. Take full-length practice tests as part of your test prep regimen instead—in doing so, you can make the necessary changes to your problem solving approaches before it’s too late.

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