Test to Learn: The Importance of Practice Tests

Article-Photos12The SAT lasts three hours and 45 minutes. The ACT asks 215 questions—essay not included. No matter how much practice you may devote to individual exam concepts and strategies, the question invariably remains—will I succeed on test day? Can I sustain focus for an extended period of time? These concerns haunt even the most diligent of students, undermining their confidence and shattering their concentration. And there is only one method to silence them: completing a full-length practice exam.

Why are practice tests important?

Let’s think back to March Madness. Imagine you decide to become very good at basketball, so you shoot hundreds of free throws in your backyard and perform dozens of dribbling drills each day. Perhaps you excel at basketball fundamentals, but you still have no game-day experience. As you practice, you picture yourself completing a difficult pass or hitting the game-winning shot. But all your game scenarios are only in your mind, and you are aware that you have no idea how an actual game might play out, or whether you will be able to participate in all four quarters. The truth is that no matter how much you practice, you will never be prepared to play in your league’s championship game if you do not have experience in not only honing the fundamentals, but also in playing real games.

College entrance tests are very similar. They require both sound fundamentals and true “game day” experience. Test champions have played the game before. They have performed endless drills (concept analyses, practice questions, and strategy reviews) and proven themselves on the court (in full-length practice exams). They have a certain swagger that comes only from experience—from understanding that they can rise to the occasion because they have done so in the past. They are ready to put it all on the line.

How will practice tests improve my performance?

Allow me to continue my analogy. With the game at stake, a coach gives the ball to the player who has hit the important, difficult shot in past games. That player does not have as much weight on his shoulders because he has already proven himself. Therefore, he is not as distracted—he is freed to focus on the task at hand. This player is similar to the student who arrives on test day knowing that he has excelled on practice tests repeatedly in the past. There is nothing to prove. He needs only to repeat past successes.

But often, no matter how much a player may have practiced, he or she may struggle in a real game scenario. Such failures are positive. They teach the player exactly how he must improve. Practice exams also place a microscope on a student’s strengths and weaknesses, demonstrating where a student is strong and where he should apply extra effort. Students can fill the holes in their test preparedness by focusing their prep work on areas where they struggled on practice exams. This bolsters confidence when the spotlight is shining on test day.


This article was written by Caleb Zimmerman

Caleb Zimmerman is a professional writing and test-prep tutor for Varsity Tutors. He graduated from The King's College in New York City in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy, and economics.


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