Are you looking for SAT practice tests? You can find them in books and all over the web, but be warned: not all practice tests are created equal.

Many test prep companies write their own tests. They’ve got teams of experts that sit together and come up with questions. The trouble with these tests is that the companies sometimes have an agenda that influences how they write the tests, and so the tests end up not being good reflections of the SAT. Here are some ways test companies’ practice tests might not represent the real thing:

Some companies write their tests to be easier than the real thing.

They think boosting a student’s confidence in this way will make feel good about the test, which will motivate them to study. Studies do show that student confidence affects learning ability, but we don’t think lying is the right way to pump you up. Also, it’s unfair: if your practice tests are easier than the real thing, your scores on the real test might be disappointingly low.

Other companies write problems where their trademarked strategies will work.

This is just one of many ways they market their services and convince students that they know what they’re talking about. But the reality is that no single strategy works all of the time. As we’ve said in other posts, students need to be nimble in their approach.

Still other companies make their tests harder than the real SAT.

Companies do this to steel students’ resolve and help them be prepared for the worst, most difficult problems, but this can exhaust and demoralize students in the process. If you burn out before ever taking the test, what’s the point of test prep?

No company has unlocked the method that the College Board (the company that writes the SAT) uses to develop and test out new SAT questions. As you may know, the SAT has always had an unscored, experimental section that the College Board used to beta test new questions. With the revisions to the SAT, it at first appeared this section had been discontinued, but now it seems like the experimental section continues to be administered on at least some tests. This section helps the College Board analyze patterns in the way thousands of students answered those questions in order to assess how appropriate they are to be included in future SATs. Given the complexity of this experimentation and development process, it’s nearly impossible for a company to copy this effectively.

Thus, the best place to get practice tests is from the College Board itself.

You want real, official SATs to practice on, because they are going to be the most realistic practice you can get. The questions are going to be typical of the SAT, the difficulty levels are going to be accurate, and so an official SAT practice test is going to give you the most useful mental workout and the best approximation of your score on test day.

Now, the question is, how does one obtain these tests from the College Board? For starters, there’s a free test on the College Board website released every year. There is also the Official Study Guide to the SAT, which contains 10 real tests. The College Board website also includes eight full-length practice tests that are different from the ones in the Official Guide.

We recommend that you do one full-length test every 3–4 weeks, and in between use test sections as “homework” to give yourself regular practice. The practice tests we’ve linked to above should get you through six months of prep, with one full test a month, a section practice once a week, and two full-length tests in the month before your real test.

But, the biggest tip I want to give you is this: Just taking test after test is NOT going to improve your score.

You need to review your tests, redo problems that you got wrong or struggled with, and learn from your mistakes on a regular basis to see any meaningful improvement. One thing that can be extremely helpful is turning your practice test into a diagnostic test, which means using your results to measure your performance on certain topics and types of questions so you know what to focus your studying on.

At Signet, our SAT experts have developed diagnostic tools to analyze a number of official College Board tests. We’d be happy to take a look at your answers and tell you where and how you can improve your scores. Just drop us a line and ask about our free SAT diagnostic.