Practice Tests: The when, the why, and the how many?

Many of my students’ parents have been asking about practice tests lately. Questions such as:

  1. When should I take them?
  2. Should I take them?
  3. How do I know if it’s a real test or not?
  4. How many should I take?

Questions 1 & 2: When and why should I take practice tests?

Let’s start by talking about the tests’ merits, as well as where the benefit might fall short.

Practice tests can be an extremely useful tool if used under the right circumstances. The right time to take a practice test is definitely when you are just starting out with test prep, if you are definitely starting with the ACT. The PSAT acts as a strong replacement, but the ACT’s PLAN is often administered during your child’s freshman year and therefore falls a bit short in terms of preparation and assessment.

If, however, you are unsure of which test would be best for your child, taking a practice test of each (the SAT and the ACT) in sittings close together with each other (at least a day, but preferably no more than a week) will serve you well. We can talk about how to decide between each test in my post next week.

Another useful time to take practice ACTs or SATs would be several weeks before the real test, as a bit of a dry run. This will only be useful if your son or daughter is interested in taking it. If he or she is completely uninterested, it will not be a very good use of anyone’s time. And unfortunately, making a student sit for it won’t just magically make them interested in the test. Use your best judgment when determining if your child will take the practice test seriously or if they will be so frustrated that they won’t.

Question 3: How do I know if it’s a real test or not? 

Ask! The person administering the test will be able to tell you if it’s real as well as what the code or date was from the original administered test. Does it have to be “real?” No. But it should be for the inherent practice benefits that a real practice test would administer. FYI: there are free tests released by both the SAT and ACT each year.

Question 4: How many should I take? 

The short answer: not many. Take 1-2 for diagnosis purposes, and take 1-2 before the real thing. If students have been taking their prep plans seriously, sitting for a full test won’t accomplish too much for them. What it will accomplish: a display of endurance. Students will know exactly what it takes for test day to sit and take a test for 3+ or 4+ hours. However, I believe not much of a score gain is accomplished by taking multiple practice tests if the prep is done properly before then, so multiple practice tests can serve more as a nuisance (and in some cases, a CYA) than as a benefit.

Parting Thoughts

In the end, it remains up to you as the parent or student to decide what is right for you. Often this can be determined best with a conversation with your tutor, as they will likely also have a read on where your student is with preparation.  For those of you with any additional questions, please reach out to me at dana@moprep.com.


Student Reading: Chimp War and what it says about us

Good morning, students! It’s a beautiful Tuesday and I have an interesting article for you in store.

The main premise is that some years ago, there was a chimpanzee war. In fact, it is the only chimpanzee war known to us. And the circumstances in which the war arose actually shed some light onto how and why our own human societies splinter. So this can apply to something like the USSR breaking up into 15 separate states, or to what’s happening in American politics right now, or even to why your group of girlfriends broke up in the 7th grade.


Only Known Chimp War Reveals How Societies Splinter, by Colin Barras in New Scientist


Student Reading: For the Love of Numbers

For Student Reading Friday, a radio short (20′) instead of an article. I love this one! Instead of reading the first paragraph, please listen to the first minute. Should be good for your weekend drives and/or your Friday workdays.

For the Love of Numbers, Radiolab for NPR

And while we’re on the topic, what’s your favorite number?

Mine’s 9. I’ve got a whole slew of reasons, but I realized last night they were merely justifications after I had chosen the number. The real reason why #9 is my favorite number is because I always chose my age for the soccer jersey I was to have, and I was 9 years old when I joined travel soccer, so it became my permanent number and therefore my favorite. But also, it’s pretty and just short of #10 (the best/flashiest player on the field), and divisible by 3, and therefore has really cool divisible properties, and the largest number whose square is two digits, and it sounds great, and did I mention it looks pretty? It’s very pretty.