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Taking Practice SAT/ACT Tests: Why, When & How—And What to Do After

Posted by Kimberly Hewitt on Monday, February 27, 2023


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30-Second Summary


Why This Matters


Despite test-optional policiesall students should take a practice SAT and ACT to inform their testing strategy.  Families need to know why, when, and how students should use practice testing as part of their SAT/ACT strategy.


The Main Takeaway


The three steps to developing your SAT/ACT testing strategy are:

  • Step 1: Determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT, and establish your baseline score.  This is where practice tests come in.
  • Step 2: Set your target score based on your college and scholarship goals.
  • Step 3: Select your study strategy. 


What You'll Learn in This Article


You'll learn the importance of practice SAT/ACT testing, which practice test(s) to take, when you should take them, and what you should do with your scores—all depending on your individual goals.


Read On




How Should I Approach the SAT/ACT Testing Process?


Let’s start with the basics.  Our 3 Steps to SAT/ACT Success framework is a quick way to summarize how you should approach the entire SAT/ACT testing process.


Step 1: Determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT, and establish your baseline score


All four-year colleges accept either the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. That means you should determine which test better suits your strengths, then focus exclusively on preparing for that test.  How do you do that?  Take a free practice SAT/ACT to establish your baseline and learn which test better suits your strengths.


Step 2: Set your target score


Determine the score you would like to reach based on your college admissions and scholarship goals. View average SAT/ACT scores of admitted students at a sample of nationwide colleges by downloading The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook.


Step 3: Select your study strategy

Evaluate your baseline score and target score in the context of your strengths and learning style preferences. Determine whether you should go pro with an expert test prep program, study on your own, or try both. 


Want to learn more about the SAT/ACT testing process?  Check out our webinar, How to Design Your SAT/ACT Testing Strategy.


Wondering how test-optional policies will impact your plans? Read our article, How to Navigate Test-Optional Policies.


Why Should I Take Practice SAT/ACT Tests?


Now that you have a basic understanding of the overall SAT/ACT testing process, how do practice tests fit in?  Practice tests help you…


Determine Whether the SAT or ACT Better Suits Your Strengths, Plus Establish Your Baseline Score


That’s Step 1 of the 3 Steps to SAT & ACT Success!  At Frontier Tutoring (unlike at some other local providers), our practice tests are full-length and published by the test maker.  While you can learn about the differences between the SAT and ACT, the most reliable way to tell which test better suits your strengths is to take both, then compare your scores.


Get Important Diagnostic Information


Shortly after each practice test, you’ll get a custom score report by email (check out a sample score report).  The score report will break down your score by section, subject matter, and question type, giving you actionable intel on where you need to focus your study efforts.  Your total and section scores are based on national norming data released by the test maker, so you can be confident that it represents how you would perform on the actual SAT/ACT.  (Other local providers may provide you with a score range rather than an actual score.)


Build Stamina and Get Familiar with Timed, Imperfect Conditions


We administer our tests using the same timing and type of directions you will hear on test day.  It’s important for every student to experience what it’s like to test for over four hours straight—and develop strategies to stay sharp—before sitting for the real thing. 


We also administer our tests in groups (unless you schedule a custom time).  You might be annoyed by another student’s allergies, the sound of cars outside, or the constant rustling of papers.  But guess what?  You’ll need to contend with those same distractions during the real test.  A practice test is the right time to recognize what environmental factors challenge you and learn how to cope.


Avoid the Expense, Delay, and Risk of Experimenting with Official Tests


Practice tests are low stakes (no stakes, to be precise).  Taking a practice SAT/ACT provides you with the same experience and score accuracy as an official test, but you’ll save time and money, as well as avoid the risk of having to share a score you don’t like when you apply to colleges.



Frontier Tutoring Practice SAT/ACT

Official SAT/ACT

Tests Offered

Practice tests typically available at least once per week

(Schedule a custom practice test anytime)

6 – 7 times per year

Time to Score Report

0 – 3 days typical

2+ weeks


Without Essay: Free!

With Essay: Free!


($50 fee for custom scheduled practice test; if you subsequently sign up for a paid SAT/ACT prep program, the fee will be credited)


Approximately $60 - $90 depending on timing of registration and whether student sits for essay


(Excludes fee waiver students)

Will Colleges Evaluate the Scores?

Colleges never have access to practice SAT/ACT scores

Depends on college policy (colleges require that students disclose all scores, best total scores, or best scores by section)


Which Practice Test(s) Should I Take?


Throughout this post, we’ve discussed taking both a practice SAT and a practice ACT so you can compare your scores.  But what if you’ve already taken the official SAT/ACT, the PSAT, or a practice SAT/ACT within the last 6 months?  Check out the table below to see which practice test you should take.


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When Should I Sign Up?


Now that you know which practice test(s) you’re going to take, when should you sign up? 


When you should take your first practice SAT and ACT depends on your grade level and what level of math you have completed.  See where you land in this table:


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Exceptional Academic Performers: Preparing for the PSAT/National Merit


11th graders have the opportunity to take the PSAT every October, and the top 1% of Alaska students may qualify for National Merit Scholarship Program recognition or funding.  If you are an exceptional academic performer and think you might have a shot at National Merit, we recommend taking a practice SAT and ACT during the spring of sophomore year or the summer before your junior year.  We can tell you if earning a National Merit qualifying score is a realistic goal, and if it is, you’ll have time to study.


Learn more about the PSAT and National Merit Scholarship process for Alaska students by reading our article, PSAT & National Merit Scholarship Guide for Alaska Students.


Learn more about when you should take the official SAT/ACT by reading our article, When to Prepare for and Take the SAT/ACT (Including PSAT/National Merit Info): 3 Questions to Help You Decide.



What Should I Do After the Practice Tests?


With the data from your practice tests (and/or any official tests you may have taken) in hand, you can begin executing our 3 Steps to SAT/ACT Success:


Step 1. Determine Whether to Focus on the SAT or ACT


After you finish your practice SAT/ACT, your first step is to compare your SAT and ACT scores to determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT.  Use these concordance tables to compare your SAT and ACT scores and see which test you performed better on.


Step 2. Set Your Target Score


Determine your target score based on your college admissions and scholarship goals. View average SAT/ACT scores of admitted students at a sample of nationwide colleges.  You can also sign up for North to My Future, your free, individualized college admissions strategy session, where we can help you determine your target score.


Step 3. Select Your Study Strategy


Evaluate your baseline score and target score in the context of your strengths and learning style preferences. Determine whether you should go pro with an expert test prep program, study on your own, or try both.  We can address the best test prep program(s) for you during your North to My Future meeting.  Finally, you can always contact us for direct guidance.


We'll Help You With the Analysis for Free:
Sign Up for North to My Future


After you take your practice SAT/ACT, you can sign up for a North to My Future meeting, your free, individualized college admissions strategy session for students in Anchorage.  We’ll sit down with you and a parent for 45 minutes and discuss how your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and overall profile compare relative to the norms for the colleges and scholarships you’re considering.  In addition, we'll develop an action plan of specific priorities for you between now and when it’s time to apply.  If our SAT/ACT prep, academic tutoring, or college admissions consulting programs are appropriate to help you achieve your goals, we will also provide recommendations on how you can best use these professional resources.


Getting Started


Now that you know the best way to take advantage of resources, sign up for your free practice SAT/ACT now.


Take a Free Practice SAT/ACT


And, of course, we welcome you to contact us anytime with questions regarding your individual academic, testing, or college admissions situation.


Here’s a list of the other free resources discussed in this post:

North to My Future College Admissions Strategy Session


Topics: ACT, SAT, 11th Grade - Juniors, 10th Grade - Sophomores, 12th Grade - Seniors, College Admissions: Test Well, Anchorage, PSAT