How to Tell If You Are Ready to Take the ACT or SAT

SAT Prep | ACT Prep

I'm preparing to take the redesigned SAT for the first time on Saturday (I should have taken in March with all of you, but the College Board revoked all adult admission tickets just six days before the test). I’ve answered the SAT Question Preparedof the Day every day for months. I've worked through all of the questions in The Official SAT Study Guide. I've even categorized the questions by the concept being tested.

But how do I know if I'm really ready to take the test?


The ACT and SAT are standardized tests, so your score on one official version should be very similar to your score on another. The best way to determine if you are ready for an official administration is to compute your scores on a timed practice test. Do these scores meet your goals? Are they similar to or higher than the scores required by your prospective colleges? If so, you are ready for the real ACT or SAT. Most students can expect their official scores to be slightly lower than their practice scores, given the pressure and unfamiliar testing conditions that exist with the real deal. But the difference is not usually large enough to warrant much concern.

If you scores are not in your target range, you likely need more study. The official test is no time for a practice test! Too many students take the test “just to see how I do,” and these scores are stuck with them forever. Most schools request that all scores be sent with the application, so even though ACT and the College Board offer to send scores from only a single administration, you may not have a chance to utilize these services. Only take a real college admissions test when you feel you are completely prepared. A practice test should be taken at home on the kitchen table or in a proctored course, not at an official test administration!

If you’ve taken all of the practice tests in the Real ACT Prep Guide and Official SAT Study Guide, you can find additional free ACTs and prior-format SATs online: Additional ACT and SAT Practice Tests.



Before taking the ACT or SAT, assess your confidence level. How do you feel about your preparation? Are you terrified or simply anxious? A student who is well-prepared may have butterflies, but they feel like they are ready to tackle the test. They are confident that they know what the test entails and what kinds of questions they will be asked, because they have studied and learned the secrets of the ACT and SAT.

To increase your confidence, you must familiarize yourself with the test, but the best way to study is different for each student. Some self-directed learners do well just using the official guides and taking practice tests on their own. Others need an additional, more detailed book that breaks down the test patterns for them which helps them as they work through the practice tests in the blue book. Still others need a more structured environment in a classroom, where test experts guide them through the patterns and the tests in the blue book. Only you can determine which method is best for you.

So if your practice test scores are in or near your target range, and if you feel assured in your knowledge of the ACT or SAT, hesitate no more. It’s time to take the test. I'm feeling fairly confident, so let's go rock this thing together. Best of luck on Saturday.


Photo: "Be Prepared," courtesty of Calsidyrose