There are two types of practice tests for the SAT or ACT. To put it bluntly, there are official practice tests and there are imposters.
The official practice tests are made by the organizations that create the SAT and the ACT. These tests are often actual SATs or ACTs that were administered in the past and have since been released. Both the SAT and ACT are meticulously crafted tests. Striving for consistency in both difficulty and question type, both organizations vet their questions extremely rigorously. Each question undergoes multiple rounds of examination by large teams of expert educators and is tested on students before it makes it onto an actual SAT or ACT.
The imposter practice tests are made by large test prep companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Barron’s. These companies generally sell their practice tests in books and use those books for their courses. Calling these practice tests “imposters” might be a slight exaggeration. They aren’t terrible. If you want to get a broad sense of what the SAT or ACT looks like, these tests get the job done. But for students whose goal is to maximize their potential on the test through a deep understanding of the nuances of the SAT or ACT, the imposter tests will be a detriment to their preparation process.
Perceptive students studying with official practice tests will learn to pick up on some subtle test patterns and may subconsciously internalize others. Exploiting these patterns is a critical component in making significant improvements on the SAT or ACT. Using the third-party practice materials can cause students to miss out on many of these patterns and perhaps even pick up on false trends that are applicable only to a particular test prep book.
Students prepping with unofficial practice tests may also find their practice test scores bear little resemblance to their scores on the real SAT or ACT. Many students find the “imposter” practice tests much easier or much more difficult than the actual SAT or ACT.
Luckily, official test materials are (relatively) easily obtained. The College Board, which administers the SAT, publishes a book with eight official SATs and offers those same eight tests as free downloads. Even more official SATs can be found online. For the ACT, a large collection of official ACT tests can be found online with some careful searching, and the ACT has a book with official practice tests as well.
Ultimately, preparing for the SAT or ACT with any practice materials is substantially better than not preparing at all. But considering all the faults of the imposter materials and the ready availability of official materials, there is little reason to not go for the real thing.
As you’ve probably gathered, at Premier Edge Prep we only use official practice tests.