SAT Prep – Free Practice Tests
Using Practice Tests to Improve Performance
Practice tests are invaluable to the test preparation process, and free 2023 SAT practice tests can be acquired from a number of sources. SAT practice tests, when used correctly, can provide a highly reliable measure of student performance and progress. The most effective strategy for using practice tests to develop SAT skills should be oriented around incremental increases in testing difficulty level. Initial practice assessments should allow generous time allotments and comfortable testing environments. As the preparation period progresses, testing conditions can become gradually closer to those the student will face on test day, and eventually replicate the exact timing and setting of actual SAT administrations. This incremental approach builds student confidence, increases familiarity with the test, and reduces cognitive workloads through repetition.
Official Practice Tests
The College Board website allows students to practice the new SAT either online or in hard copy at no cost. The College Board website includes eight free practice tests in PDF format, along with answer sheets and answer explanations. Perusing College Board online resources will yield additional practice questions, and students can also download a free practice app that posts daily practice questions. The Official SAT Study Guide, available for $29.99 from the College Board and bookstores, includes the following:
Eight official SAT practice exams, written using the same process and created by the same authors as the actual SAT
Detailed descriptions of the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections
Targeted practice questions for each type of SAT question
Seamless integration with official SAT practice on Khan Academy
It is worth noting that the latest hardcopy version of The Official SAT Study Guide created by the College Board was published in 2020 and still includes a section on the essay, which was discontinued in June 2021.
Privately Created Practice Tests
Many test prep companies have written their own 2023 SAT practice tests. Although these tests have no official status and are not connected to the College Board's test writers, they are usually created by career educators with substantial experience in and knowledge of SAT teaching and learning. These "unofficial" practice tests are necessitated by the limited number of official tests released by the College Board. Student preparation demands ample practice, and the College Board materials alone are quite simply insufficient in number to accommodate these preparation requirements. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some test prep companies are deliberately writing these practice tests at a difficulty level higher than the actual SAT in order to create the appearance of larger score gains for their clients. Reputable test prep companies, however, understand that duplicating the true challenges of the SAT with honest practice tests is in the best interests of everyone involved. As always, students are encouraged to do their own research and to speak with those educators they trust (teachers, guidance counselors, etc.) when considering which materials to use when preparing for the SAT. The most reputable test prep companies do not make outrageous claims about score increases and acknowledge the importance of student time, effort, and dedication to mastering the provided information.
SAT Practice Tests and Accessibility
SAT practice tests help advance the worthwhile educational goal of increasing access to opportunity for all students. SAT practice tests are a useful tool that can be acquired regardless of family income. Availability of practice tests is one aspect of the College Board's efforts to mitigate the proven testing advantages of high socio-economic status, affluent areas of residence, and educated family backgrounds.
Research on Practice Testing
According to a 2013 report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (a journal of the Association for Psychological Science), practice testing with feedback substantially outperformed all other study techniques considered (including highlighting, flashcards, summarization, and re-reading). The researchers also found distributed practice over long periods to be much more effective than "cramming." The study is entitled "Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology," by John Dunlosky, Katherine Rawson, Elizabeth Marsh, Mitchell Nathan, and Daniel Willingham (all of whom are faculty members at various university psychology departments).
The "testing effect" is a phenomenon that has been studied since the early 20th century. A number of researchers have shown that incorporating practice tests as part of test preparation produces better results than study alone, and long-term memory has been demonstrated to improve through structured information retrieval (practice testing) while studying for assessments. According to a 2018 study by Oakley and Sejnowski, practice exams utilize spaced retrieval practice, with the learner retrieving information from their memory when applying it a particular question, which serves to further "hardens" that information in memory.
A 2017 study by R. Waddell reported that the benefits of practice tests were greatest when the practice test and the final exam were identical, rather than dissimilar, making it even more important to utilize current SAT practice exams most similar to the exam a student will be taking. This is likely due to the cognitive phenomenon of Transfer-Appropriate Processing (Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977) which posits that memories are more easily retrieved when the retrieval process is similar to how the information was initially encoded or "learned" during the initial educational activity. While this theory in its entirety is complex and was not developed specifically to be applied to practice tests, from it we can extrapolate that the more familiar a student is with sitting at a desk and taking timed tests composed of multiple-choice questions, the more comfortable that student will be and the more familiar they will feel when taking the "real" version of that test. Similarly, when taking the "real" SAT, students would be expected to more easily recall information they were exposed to while taking practice tests than those students who did not undertake repeated exposure to the material through practice exams.
Effects of Other Skills on SAT Practice
Many students may not consider the benefits of ostensibly "non-relevant" subjects to their SAT scores, but there is strong evidence that study of subject areas not directly related to the SAT can have a substantial positive effect on overall SAT performance. Arts education has repeatedly demonstrated its value to other types of academic performance. Music study, for example, has been shown to improve fine motor skills, make complex cognitive processes easier, benefit both short-term and long-term memory, and develop stronger critical thinking skills. All of these of abilities are highly relevant to SAT preparation, even if the immediate connection is not obvious to test-takers. Whether or not a given student has an aptitude for the arts, test-takers should think about taking as broad of an approach as possible to their SAT preparation by including other academic disciplines outside of math and English.