Learning material, study methods, and test-taking strategies are all key parts to preparing for any exam. Most students will study by themselves, a much smaller portion will be tutored, and an even smaller portion will take regular practice exams. This is because the view of practice exams is that they are either a waste of effort to take an entire exam all at once or that it is quite daunting. The reason why taking regular, or at least a few, practice exams before the real thing is important is that they offer something that normal studying or tutoring can’t quite provide: experience. Many students will pay for and take the actual SAT or ACT or other standardized test multiple times to get the feeling for the exam. However, they can do it at home or through a tutoring/teaching program for free (as a bonus in the tutoring program, virtually free). This experience of being timed in a test-taking environment and taking an entire exam gives invaluable experience and insight as to how one fares during the exam and how it feels, is simply great practice, and even provides a benchmark for progress in the studying journey.
You can’t ever know what any particular standardized test feels like unless you take it yourself. The timed aspect, sitting for hours at a time hunched over one large test (sectioned into parts in some cases), and preparing for it with sleep and study are all hard to truly internalize without firsthand knowledge. Many people think this means they have to take it once for real as a kind of official mock exam and then at least one more time after that. This is fine to do, sure, but that score will be available for some schools to see and it also means you pay out-of-pocket for it. That’s why you can always find a practice test online (if it’s a widely available test like the ACT or SAT) and time yourself or if you have hired or are going to hire a tutor, they should offer practice tests as an included part of their service. Victory Step Education does that, so that’s a huge bonus! I know I said that a con of taking a real exam would be paying out-of-pocket and, obviously, hiring a tutor means using money, but a tutor has a myriad of benefits over blindly taking an exam.
Overall, practice tests are just good… practice. If you have one, a tutor can go over the practice exam with you! This gives invaluable knowledge into the mistakes you made and how to fix them. From there, you can focus on different topics that you are weak in and even specific question types. Without having someone there to point out how you made those mistakes, it will be harder to fix them. It’s not impossible; many have self-taught and crushed the SAT and ACT. However, it’s much more efficient to have someone there to guide you. During a practice exam, you must stay vigilant and try not to ask for help or be distracted. It’s supposed to simulate the real deal as closely as possible! The more exams you take, the more times you can see which mistakes you keep making or which ones you’ve remedied as a marker for progress.
Every time you take a practice exam, there should and will be plenty of time in between for learning, studying, and growth. If you only take exam after exam after exam, there will be hardly any improvement because going over the results and trying to fix any issues or misunderstandings is the most crucial part of practice exams. Their function is to give a solid test-taking experience and to let you (and a tutor, preferably) review each question afterwards. After that process along with some more lessons, take another practice test and see how much you improved. If it wasn’t all that much, adjust what you’re focusing on and keep trying. These benchmarks of improvement aren’t only a way to see which topics you excel in and which you are weak in, but also to show how much better you’ve become and boost your confidence. That confidence is nearly as important as knowledge and skills. A positive attitude goes a long way.
Take More Tests!
Now we know why practice tests aren’t just there to ruin your day or to give you more busywork. They legitimately help students in their quest for higher grades! Tutors and teachers should take this all to heart, too. Advanced Placement classes do this all year as any test you take in those classes is just a practice test (disguised with an official grade) for the actual AP exam. The same can be said for any program or college class where the final exam has a huge weight to it. If all that is true, then why do so few students take practice tests for the ACT and SAT? That’s a question we here at Victory Step want to eradicate by tutoring as many students as we can and spreading the word that, yes, studying for the SAT and ACT is extremely important! It’s your final exam before college, so why not practice for like you would any other class?