Is The Real SAT Harder Than The College Board SAT Practice Tests?

Matt Larriva
Feb 20, 2020
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You want to know if you’re scoring a 1400 on college board sat practice tests, will you score a 1400, a 1300, or a 1500 on the real SAT test.

Short answer:

You’ll do worse on the real SAT than on a SAT practice test.

Will you score 10x worse? Absolutely not.

You’ll probably do about 7% worse: your 1400 will come in around 1300.


The ACT is the easier test, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best test for all students to take.

Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind that and find out which test you should take.

Two Reasons Students Score Higher On The College Board SAT Practice Tests

“They must be cheating…”

“The practice tests must be easier in content…”

“They must want you to fail…”

No. These are lazy reasons that we see all too often. Students love to get to the real SAT test and blame weak practice tests or a sneaky College Board for the gap in scores.

This is completely errant. It’s tempting logic because it is simple, and it takes the blame away from the test taker, but it’s not accurate.

In reality, there are two primary reasons for score-to-score disparity between the practice tests and SAT test performance.

RELATED READING: What’s better, a 35 ACT Score or a 1550 SAT Score?

1. College Board SAT Practice Tests Aren’t Taken In Realistic Settings

student taking SAT practice test
Take your SAT practice tests in a realistic setting.

As I said, students do not take practice tests in realistic settings. On one end of the extreme, students will take practice tests with many long breaks between sections, in the late morning after a night of good sleep, in the comfort and quiet of their home, where food and drink is plentiful, the bathrooms are close and clean, and ambient stress and noise is negligible.

On the other hand, the actual SAT is proctored at 8 AM in a strange classroom where you’re surrounded by strangers. You can’t have a coffee on your desk and you need to ask to use the restroom which is god-knows-where. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the guy next to you is breathing heavily and the person in front of you mumbles when she reads.

You can’t quite see the clock, but it’s analog anyway. The SAT Proctor started the time somewhere between 8:52 and 8:55—35 minutes plus 8:55 is something like 9:30, you think. That means you’ve been going for 5 minutes so you maybe have 25 minutes left, but you can’t really focus on that.

Why? Because it’s so cold and the light above you is flickering. You’re pretty hungry because your sugar levels just crashed, and you can’t have a snack till the first break which is when again?

So, you must take your practice tests in uncomfortable settings: think Starbucks (noisy, busy, distracting, uncertain bathroom situation) at 8 AM on a Saturday.

If you can master your method application and you’re practicing in test-like environments, then the actual SAT test should feel very natural to you.

RELATED READING: When to take the SAT: Ideal Timeline

2. Students Revert To Old Habits When They’re Stressed

I’ve mentioned this paradigm multiple times but here are the basics:

The SAT math is not new math.

You’ve seen it before, in high school, and you learned a very methodical, long-handed way to come to a correct answer. What a good tutor teaches you is a better, more efficient, and less error-prone way to come to the same correct answer.

student stressed about SAT practice test
Don’t revert back to old habits when taking the SAT test.

Now the method the tutor gives you will be a little foreign to you. It’ll be like using the mouse with your opposite hand at first, and then with practice, it becomes completely natural.

When you get to the test you’ll have two methods:

  1. the old method
  2. and the new method

The new method still might be a little unfamiliar, so in the stress of the SAT test you might revert back to the original method—the slower more error-prone one. If this happens your score will go down from what it was when you took the College Board SAT practice tests, and you’ll be tempted to blame it on the actual SAT test instead.

How To Solve The No-Calculator Section of SAT Practice Test 1

In this video, Powerful Prep tutor, Lauren, walks us through questions 1-20 of the SAT Practice Test 1.

Learn how to solve the no-calculator portion of the test with ease. Head over to the blog post to download a copy of the SAT Practice Test 1 and work through the answers along with Lauren in this super helpful video.

RELATED READING: 5 Types of Students Who Take The SAT/ACT

College Board Practice SAT Test FAQ