Last Updated on April 20, 2023

This is a nightmarish scenario for any SAT student: You study for months for the SAT and achieve your target score on practice tests, so you think that you are ready to take the SAT. However, things don’t go as planned on test day, and your SAT score is lower than your practice test scores. Then, after the shock has worn off, you’re left wondering, “Where did I go wrong?”

In this article, we’ll discuss the top 7 reasons why your practice test scores would be higher than your actual SAT score. Whether you’ve already experienced an SAT score drop or want to avoid one, after reading this article, you should have the information you need to hit your target on test day.

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

  • Issue #1: Not Taking Practice Tests Under Realistic Conditions
  • Issue #2: Not Taking All 8 Official Practice Tests
  • Issue #3: Prepping With Materials Designed Around Official Practice Tests
  • Issue #4: Putting on the PRESSURE!
  • Issue #5: Burning Yourself Out Before Test Day
  • Issue #6: Having “One of Those Days”
  • Issue #7: Implementing Last-Minute “Improvements” to Your Routine
  • In Conclusion
  • What’s Next?

Issue #1: Not Taking Practice Tests Under Realistic Conditions

If you want a practice exam to give you an accurate picture of your SAT skills, the conditions under which you take it should be as close to SAT conditions as possible.

You might not earn an accurate practice test score if you skip any sections or take your SAT in two sittings or use a calculator in the non-calculator section. Getting precise practice test scores is very important; you need to get a true sense of where you are at. Thus, whenever you take a practice exam, do your best to replicate test-day conditions.


When taking an SAT practice exam, replicate the test-day experience.

Tips for Making Practice Tests Realistic

  1. Schedule your practice test for Saturday or Sunday morning, similar to the time when you will be taking your actual SAT. Trying to fit in a practice exam after a long day of school is not a great idea.
  2. Take your practice test in a quiet place, such as a quiet room at home or a private study room at a library.
  3. Turn your cell phone off and put it out of sight.
  4. Do not skip any math sections or verbal sections. Use your calculator only for the Calculator section, and make sure it is the same calculator that you will use on test day.
  5. Don’t take any extra breaks or do anything you won’t be able to do on test day.
  6. Print out your practice SAT and take it by hand rather than on the computer. Yes, it’s a pain to print it out, but you will be taking the paper SAT on test day, so do the same for your practice exams. Remember, too, to print out an answer sheet for bubbling in your answers.

Unless you take a practice test under realistic SAT testing conditions, you will not get a true sense of your SAT score. You may in fact get an artificially inflated score, which you will not be able to match on test day.


Simulate the testing environment as much as possible and follow all of the SAT rules each time you take an official practice test.

Issue #2: Not Taking All 8 Official Practice Tests

Let’s say you want to score 1400+ on the SAT. You take two practice exams from the College Board and score 1420 and 1440. So you think that you are ready for test day. Then, you are shocked when you score 1300 on the actual SAT.

Many SAT test-takers make the mistake of taking only a handful of official practice tests. They assume that their average result reflects their current SAT abilities. However, that is not always the case.

The College Board offers 8 full-length practice tests. Taking all of them will provide you with valuable test-taking experience and give you an accurate sense of your current SAT score. Thus, you won’t be in a position where your real SAT score is lower than your practice test scores.


Complete all 8 of the full-length, official College Board practice exams to get an accurate gauge of your readiness to hit your score goal.

Official Practice Tests Are The Most Realistic Tests

You may be wondering, why is it so necessary to take all 8 official SAT practice tests? They are important because all are official College Board products, and several of them are retired real SATs.. This means that these practice tests are the most realistic practice SATs available. Thus, these tests represent the difficulty level of the exam you will encounter on test day.

You want to do all you can to prepare yourself for the rigor of the actual SAT. Moreover, how you score on these practice tests should align with how you should expect to score on the SAT.


The official practice SATs have a difficulty similar to the actual SAT and are the most realistic practice tests available.

Issue #3: Prepping With Materials Designed Around Official Practice Tests

Imagine you have an English exam in the afternoon, and your friend Jamie has the same exam in the morning. What are the chances you’ll do better on the test if Jamie tells you the test questions during lunch? I’m guessing very likely.

Unsurprisingly, the same thing happens when people study for the SAT. Perhaps you’re studying with SAT Prep Company Z, which based its practice materials on just questions from official sample exams, rather than focusing on the abilities, information, and knowledge needed to ace the SAT.

Naturally, it is vital to do an investigation into official questions. However, if the majority of the questions you practice with are just models of questions from official practice tests, you might not learn everything you need to know. As a result, you may achieve practice test scores that, while high, are not accurate markers of SAT knowledge.

Using study materials that focus only on content from official SAT questions may cause you to notice concepts and patterns that appear in some (possibly very few) official materials. Still, such materials won’t necessarily help you improve your ability to think critically, reason analytically, and analyze problems logically. In truth, you might just be perfecting the art of passing practice tests, which is not the same as mastering the SAT.

Do your homework and choose an SAT course that gives you the depth you need to understand the SAT, not merely score well on practice exams. This will help you avoid an SAT score letdown on test day,


Choose prep materials designed to teach the skills, content, and knowledge required for deep mastery of the SAT, not just pattern recognition in practice questions.

Issue #4: Putting on the PRESSURE!

Consider any significant event you’ve had to prepare for in your life: a recital, a tournament, a playoff game, or a midterm. I’m sure you’d agree that you were at your best when you didn’t let the pressure get to you. The same can be said about the SAT. Even if you are well-prepared for the exam, if test day looms too large in your thoughts, the stress may destroy your confidence. As a result, you’ll score lower on your test than you did on your practice tests.

Managing Stress in the Weeks Leading up to Your SAT

Try some visualization strategies to help you manage your nerves in the weeks leading up to your SAT. Consider stressful test-day scenarios like getting stuck on a question, being rushed, or overthinking about performing poorly. As your stress responses surface, practice pulling yourself together and concentrating on accurately answering questions. You’ll be better prepared to deal with difficult events on test day if you practice responding calmly to stress during your SAT prep.


You’ll be better prepared to deal with difficult events on test day if you practice responding calmly to stress during your SAT prep.

Dealing With Stress While Taking the SAT

The easiest strategy for dealing with stress during the SAT is to get busy answering the question in front of you. Concentrate solely on answering that question, and nothing else, so that you can redirect all of your nervous energy and naturally relax.

To put it another way, set a goal for yourself. Tell yourself that achieving the correct answer to the question in front of you is the only thing that matters. When you’ve finished with that question, move on to the next one with the same approach. You won’t have time for anxiety if you concentrate on winning each “mini-battle.” You can win the SAT war if you win enough of those battles.


The easiest strategy to deal with stress during the SAT is to get busy answering the question in front of you.

No matter how closely you simulate test-day conditions when taking practice SATs, they won’t feel exactly like the real thing. As a result, you must do everything possible to reduce the stress you impose on yourself as you prepare for the SAT and on the day of the exam. Your focus and ability to perform will dramatically improve if you establish a “calm yet ready” attitude.

Issue #5: Burning Yourself Out Before Test Day

Have you heard the story of the SAT test-taker who took 7 practice exams in the 7 days leading up to her exam and got just 5 hours of sleep each night? Are you surprised that her score went off a cliff on test day, despite her scoring really well on her practice exams?

One of the most common mistakes SAT students make is overstudying in the week leading up to exam day. This makes sense! Everyone aspires to be as well-prepared for the SAT as possible. When entering the testing center, you should have a clear mind and a relaxed body. Cramming disrupts sleep cycles and causes knowledge overload, potentially exhausting you before you even sit down to take your exam.

The role of practice tests is to help focus your studying. They give you practice with the format and structure of the SAT and give you an indication of your expected score. During your SAT study, if you properly prepared by taking practice tests periodically, rather than binging on them during the final week, you would find that your test-day SAT score is similar to your practice test scores.

So, rather than cramming just before test day, do some fun, stress-relieving activities to keep your mind off the test. Binge-watch your favorite TV show, go for a bike ride or run, or hang out with friends. Do anything other than sitting around worrying about your upcoming SAT.


Instead of studying and practicing nonstop, do some fun activities that take your mind off the SAT in the final week before your exam.

Issue #6: Having “One of Those Days”

You did everything right. You had a solid study plan. You studied SAT topics conscientiously and thoroughly. You used official practice tests as benchmarks to help measure your progress. Your scores indicated you were ready to hit your target score on test day. You didn’t cram too much during the week before your exam. Still, you bombed the exam.

Even the best musicians and athletes in the world occasionally sing off key or strike out. In other words, everyone is entitled to have a bad day!

Perhaps you had difficulty sleeping the night before your exam. Perhaps a few questions didn’t go your way, and before you knew it, things had gotten out of hand, and you weren’t performing at your best. Whatever the reason, when you have a bad day, pick yourself up and get ready for the next SAT. If you were truly prepared for your exam and just had a bad day, lightning is unlikely to strike twice. You’ll have a better day the second time.


If you have a bad day taking the SAT, get back on the horse and prepare for the next one.

Issue #7: Implementing Last-Minute “Improvements” to Your Routine

Did you decide a week before your exam that eating a “superfood” diet would improve your mental sharpness? Did you suddenly decide on the day of your SAT to try coffee for the first time? Did you begin a strenuous new exercise plan 10 days before your test, to boost your stamina?

Making healthy modifications to your daily routine can have physical and mental benefits that can help you do better on test day. You might try eating a healthier diet, going to bed earlier, or drinking 8 glasses of water a day. The goal is to apply those modifications gradually, over time. Changes in your daily routine that are large and last-minute can impact your SAT score — and not for the better.

Your practice tests were taken when you were in your “steady state,” not when you were embracing new health practices just days before your exam. Their predictive reliability tanked when you subjected your body to all these new and untested changes.

Sleep habits, diet, hydration, and physical activity can all affect how you feel when you walk into the test. Last-minute trials with routines that are very different from what you’re used to are not recommended.


Implement healthy changes to your routine gradually, so that by the time test day arrives, they feel normal.

In Conclusion

If your actual SAT score ends up being lower than your score on your SAT practice exams, consider the following 7 reasons that might explain the discrepancy.

  1. not taking practice tests under realistic conditions
  2. not taking all 8 official practice tests
  3. prepping with materials designed around official practice tests
  4. putting on the pressure!
  5. burning yourself out before test day
  6. having “one of those days”
  7. implementing last-minute “improvements” to your routine

Resolve these issues before the day you take your SAT. Your actual score will likely be very close to the scores that you achieved on your practice tests.

What’s Next?

Get more expert tips with this article on how to improve your SAT math score. Get more tips with this guide to determining how long you may need to study to reach your target score.

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