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

    Posted by Kimberly Hewitt on Tuesday, October 16, 2018


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    At Frontier Tutoring, we encourage every college-bound high school student in Anchorage to take advantage of our free practice SAT/ACT testing at the right time as part of their test prep strategy.  And many do—last year, over 40% of Anchorage School District students who took the SAT/ACT electively signed up for a Frontier Tutoring practice test first.  But why, when, and how, exactly, should you sign up for practice tests?  We’ve put together a few tips to help you get the most out of this important resource and navigate the standardized testing and college admissions process.


    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?  Download our free e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT/ACT Prep Strategy.



    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 read 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

    3 – 4 weeks

    (ACT multiple choice scores may be available in under 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 $40 - $80 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? 


    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 downloading our free e-book, The PSAT Pathfinder.



    All Students


    We generally recommend taking the official SAT or ACT for the first time during the spring semester of your junior year.  By this time, most students will have covered the math and language arts content tested most heavily on the SAT/ACT.  And taking the official test in the spring of your junior year will allow you at least one or two additional testing attempts early in your senior year if you want to retest.


    With that in mind, you should take your practice SAT/ACT the summer before your junior year, or otherwise sometime during your junior year.  That will give you time to determine which test better suits your strengths, establish your baseline score, set your target score, and prepare for the official test if you need to.


    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 the concordance tables in The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT/ACT Prep Strategy 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 by downloading The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook.  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.  Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT/ACT Prep Strategy has some tips on deciding among these options.  We can also 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

    The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT/ACT Prep Strategy

    Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook

    The PSAT Pathfinder: Alaska PSAT & National Merit Scholarship Guide


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