There are 8 practice SAT exams offered through the College Board’s official website. These tests offer students the opportunity to simulate what taking the actual test is like, and to get an idea of what their SAT score might be.

But just like with the real test, students might wonder if one test 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?

SAT Exam

“Equating” the SAT

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 aren’t very big between tests, 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!

Equating is Not 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.

So no matter how other students perform on the test, you’ll still get the same score.


So Which Test is the Hardest

It depends on how we’re thinking about what makes a test “hard”. 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.

Math Section

Hardest Math 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.

English Section

Hardest English 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 English, 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 Reading and Writing.

# 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 as they will on other tests.

The Hardest SAT Practice Test

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.

SoFlo Tutoring

If students don’t already have a tutor to help them prepare for the SAT (or even the ACT), SoFlo Tutors are ready to help with expert knowledge and personalized programming that can fit the needs of any student. Tutors are drawn from top universities and just scored highly on these very tests themselves! Call or visit our website today to learn more about how SoFlo can help encourage your student to reach their full potential.

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