Have you ever met someone who planned to take her road test without first logging as much time as possible behind the wheel? Do you know any athletes that expect to play if they miss practice? How about actors who perform without ever rehearsing?
Of course not! Athletes and artists alike agree that practice makes perfect. So does your Driver’s Ed teacher 😉
So why would anyone want to sit for the SAT, ACT, or any other high stakes exam without as much high-quality practice time as possible? Standardized exams, by their very nature, test the same material in the same predictable ways over and over again. The more tests you see, the more prepared you’ll be for the one that counts.
Why do perfect practice tests matter so much? Consider some of the challenging aspects of taking standardized tests that are improved through practice:
When most teens think (or worry) about the SAT and ACT, they tend to focus on the content of the tests: math formulas, grammar rules, and vocabulary words. What surprises most first timers is how disconnected these tests are from 11th and 12th grade course material. You definitely can and should learn the content of a test in advance, but you won’t truly recognize gaps in your knowledge base until you actually take a test.
First time test takers may fret about content, but experienced testers are much more focused on the diabolical ways in which that content is tested. The SAT & ACT earn their reputations as tricky and trappy by subjecting students to an onslaught of opportunities, both blatant and subtle, to get questions wrong. The only path to overcoming the cunning snares set by the test makers is practice and review, to make sure that you only ever fall for a trick once!
Most standardized exams, especially the SAT and ACT, offer too little time to answer too many questions. Students taking these tests for the first time can expect to struggle with pacing, either moving so quickly that they don’t give questions enough attention or, more likely, missing a number of questions at the end of the section. But with practice, you learn through experience how to best allocate your precious time. Even better, if you’ve been taught effective strategies for different question types, practice internalizes those techniques, accelerating your overall performance.
If you’ve ever taken a test (and if you haven’t, why start now?) you know that some questions are harder than others. Difficulty, of course, is relative, but any standardized exam worth its salt calculates and quantifies difficulty with meticulous attention. Most of us, to our detriment, don’t know difficulty patterns of questions going into a test for the first time. However, just as cross country runners learn the hills and flats of each course by running them over and over, you can learn the rhythms of easy, medium, and hard questions on each section of any test. More important, by knowing difficulty distribution, you can feast on the points that are easiest for you to earn.
Did you know that a trained marathoner can run over 26 miles in less time than you’ll need to take a standard-length SAT or ACT? A racer can run and win the Indy 500 before an extended-time test ends. Imagine how drained you’ll feel after one of these epic exams? Unfortunately, questions at the end of a test count just as much as the ones in the beginning, so savvy test takers learn to manage their energy to stay fresh when everyone else is wilting. High-stakes testing is an endurance sport, so develop your endurance through practice.
Do you suffer from test anxiety? If so, you know you’re not alone. But most test anxiety manifests in response to lack of knowledge about what’s on a test combined with lack of confidence in how you’ll do. The simple prescription for improving both issues is practice. Taking a great simulated practice test is just like rehearsing a big speech or running through your killer guitar solo one more time before the audience arrives: practice soothes your nerves so you can achieve peak performance.
In essence, taking practice tests builds the kind of knowledge, attitude, focus, and judgment you need to answer the maximum number of questions quickly and accurately. Considering how few students get all the questions on these exams right, we can’t say that practice makes perfect (though it kinda does), but every high quality practice test you take moves you closer to your very best score when it counts.