Finding The Hardest SAT Practice Test And Why It Matters

There are 8 free practice SAT exams offered through the College Board’s official website. These tests present the opportunity to simulate what it will be like to take the SAT on test day, and will also allow you to calculate your score to see where you are relative to your goals.

When you’re preparing for the SAT, taking advantage of every single resource you have is key, especially when the College Board is releasing official practice tests.

But, just like with the real SAT, you might wonder if one practice exam is going to be harder than the other. When it comes to the real thing, this also leads to a host of follow-up questions: what if my SAT is harder than usual? Will it hurt my chances of getting a good score? How do they make sure the test is fair?

Don’t worry — the College Board makes sure all of their SAT exams, whether it’s the October exam or the May exam, are as fair as possible for all test takers by equating scores. Read more to find out what equating does and to see which College Board practice test is the hardest.

What Does “Equating” The SAT Mean?

The College Board uses what it calls “Equating” to adjust for different difficulty levels between exams. This involves adjusting the score a student receives for getting a certain number of incorrect answers.

The variations between tests are not big, so it’s important to remember that your score will always fall in a similar range for a given number of wrong answers.

For example, if you wanted to get a perfect score on the 2021 April SAT, you would have needed to get every answer correct on all sections. But for the May 2021 SAT, students who missed one question on the reading section could still get a perfect score!

Is Equating The Same As Curving?

It’s important to remember that equating is not the same thing as curving. Curving is a retroactive process that adjusts an individual student’s performance based on the performance of other students on the same test.

Equating standards (the conversion table of right/wrong answers to score) is designed with the test itself, and does not change based on student performance on the exam.

No matter how other students perform on the test, you’ll still get the same score!

What Makes Some SAT Practice Tests Harder Than Others?

Some SATs might have to equate scales that allow students fewer wrong answers to get their desired score but with easier questions. Other SATs might be scaled more generously, but only because they have harder questions that the designers of the test expect students to struggle with.

It’s also important to remember that the test is broken up between both Math and English sections. Some exams have more generous Math scales and harder English scales. Similarly, tests might have slightly harder Math sections and slightly easier English sections. Whichever subject a student most struggles with will determine which test seems toughest.

It’s also extremely important to realize that what makes a practice test hard for you can be completely unique to your strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, it’s the most helpful to focus on practicing as much as possible during your SAT prep period to understand your test score before taking the actual SAT. If you see you’re consistently missing math section questions, focus on learning from your mistakes, studying SAT math concepts, and taking more practice math sections.

Regardless of a test’s level of difficulty, there are a few things you can always control. When you’re taking the actual SAT, make sure to never leave a question blank. The same advice applies to your practice SAT exams, but make sure you mark which ones you guessed on; if you guess correctly but didn’t make a note, you could skip over a question that you need help with.

The more practice tests you take, the more familiarity you gain with not just the structure of the exam, but also the curriculum they test you on. You might also begin to pick up on certain patterns or types of answer choices the test-makers like to include to confuse students!

Hardest Math SAT Practice Test

Remember that a more generous equating scale means a harder test. So for students who struggle with math, SAT Practice Test #3 is probably going to be the most difficult. That is because the equating scale looks like this compared to other practice tests:

# Wrong Math AnswersPractice Test 3 ScorePractice Test 7 Score
Equating Across SAT Math Practice Tests

Getting the same number of math questions wrong on Practice Test 3 leads to a score that is 20-40 points higher than on other practice tests. This is because the math questions are thought to be more difficult, and so it is harder to get that many correct answers.

If you’re looking for a math challenge, Test 3 is the way to go.

Hardest English SAT Practice Test

We can also do the same thing for the English sections of the SAT Practice Tests to see which exam is designed to be a little more difficult.

For students who struggle with SAT Reading, it turns out Practice Test #3 also has the toughest English scale too! Remember that the Writing and Reading scales are slightly different here, so for this table, we’re assuming our wrong answers were evenly divided between the Reading and Writing Sections.

# Wrong English AnswersPractice Test 3 ScorePractice Test 10 Score
Equating Across SAT English Practice Tests

If you get the same number of incorrect answers on Practice Test 3 as you do on Practice Test 10, the College Board thinks that should be worth a 50-60 point increase in your scaled score.

So for both Math and English, the College Board thinks students won’t get as many answers right with Practice Test 3 as they will on other tests.

Which Official SAT Practice Test Is The Hardest?

Since it has the hardest scale for both sections of the test, it should come as no surprise that we think Practice Test #3 is clearly the toughest official SAT practice test.

In online forums, students also tend to identify Test #3 as the hardest of the official practice tests, so there truly seems to be a clear consensus.

It’s important to remember though that a hard practice test can actually be a great resource! Students can work through the test untimed, as they know even with plenty of time the problems will still be quite challenging. They can also practice the test with a tutor or parent, who can help them with the toughest questions. Having a strong SAT score to include in your college applications can only help, not hurt.

Why You Should Take Practice Test 3

You might make more mistakes than you usually do if you take Practice Test 3. While it seems counterintuitive, mistakes can actually be super helpful when you’re preparing for your SAT because you can study the concepts you missed and learn from your mistakes.

Taking the hardest available practice test will mean you’ve done everything you possibly can in order to prepare for test day, which can also help you relieve some test anxiety because you know you’ve challenged yourself.

The SAT is obviously a very important part of the college admissions process, so making sure you have a good grasp of the SAT concepts can even help push you in the right direction if you’re looking for admission into a top school, especially one in the Ivy League.

Juggling a high school schedule isn’t easy, and preparing for the SAT on top of everything else can get extremely stressful. But, if you can find time to practice for the actual test, it will definitely pay off in the long run.

How Can I Use Practice Tests To Boost My SAT Score?

Taking full-length practice tests is a guaranteed way to help you score higher on the SAT. But, you shouldn’t be taking them on autopilot. Here are a few tips to help you utilize SAT practice tests to the maximum:

  1. Look over every single question you answered incorrectly or skipped after grading your practice test
  2. Follow the time limits noted for each section to help mimic test day conditions
  3. Read the answer explanations — it will help you understand where you went wrong and see how the test makers think
  4. Revisit old tests and redo some of the questions you got incorrect the first time — if you got it incorrect the first time but correct the second time, it shows you’re learning the curriculum and probably won’t make that same mistake again
  5. When you’re reviewing difficult math problems that you missed, make sure to solve out each step and understand the rationale behind every single one before moving on
  6. After grading your practice test, reread the reading passages to see if there is a way to identify and remember important information as you read — a smart way to do this is to underline and circle phrases or sentences you might need to quickly find again when you answer the questions
  7. Make a “study guide” listing all of the different topics or concepts you need to review and study before taking another practice test. For example, it can include concepts that you need to remember for the exam (like how to solve for slope)
  8. See what types of questions you miss and focus on how you can become better. If you’re missing main idea questions, look for online SAT resources that specifically focus on main idea questions for tips and tricks
  9. Understand your score percentile! College admissions officers will be looking at how well you scored compared to your peers at school, so knowing where you stand will give you a good sense of how much more practice you might need

Even if you don’t have access to test prep books, you can use the free College Board practice tests and free online resources to practice for the SAT!

Most students like to take their SATs as juniors so they have some time before sending out college applications, so you should be thinking about your SAT prep schedule and when you plan to be done practicing so you can take the exam. Especially since sending colleges your SAT and ACT scores can take some time, you don’t want to be in a stressful rush. Start taking practice tests and completing test prep as early as you can!

All in all, if you’re the type of student who’s reading through this article to find the hardest SAT practice test, you’re probably already doing a great job with test preparation. Try not to get too stressed and keep working hard — good luck!

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