June 23, 2017, by


I have to take the SAT or ACT.  Where do I start?

So, your colleges of choice are asking for SAT or ACT test scores. Taking an SAT or ACT baseline test is one of the first things you should do before applying to a college that requires SAT or ACT scores.

Which baseline tests should I take?

The very first thing you should do is take two practice tests: one ACT and one SAT. Why? Because, although both the ACT and SAT are used by schools to assess the college-readiness of applicants, these are very different tests in format and style. The good news is that all four-year U.S. colleges accept scores from either test, and so you should pick the test that is better for you. The best way to choose which test to prepare for is by taking an SAT or ACT baseline practice test and analyzing your results. An assessment of your baseline test will help you determine which test you perform better on, which test you are most comfortable with, and which test better fits your test-taking style.

How do I take a practice test?

You can proctor yourself at home or have someone proctor a test for you. Sometimes high schools or tutoring firms offer free proctored tests. Taking an SAT or ACT baseline test that is professionally proctored is a great option because it can be difficult to administer a test to yourself. Taking the test in a classroom also provides a more realistic experience. A professional proctor will also be familiar with the instructions (for example: are you allowed to use a calculator?) and timing requirements of each test.

Do your baseline tests meet testing standards?

Whether you are taking an SAT or ACT baseline test at home or have someone proctor for you, the test you take should meet certain criteria. If you are scheduling a test at a school or tutoring company, call to ask the following questions:

Are the SAT or ACT baselines full-length tests?

Some companies administer partial practice tests. While you can get the general feel for a test from a sampling of questions, that will not give you an accurate picture of which test is better for you. You want to simulate an actual test so that you know how you handle the timing and the number of questions. A shorter test will not indicate how you manage your time on a full test and may not give you a good sense of the full range of question types for some sections.

Will the test be administered under the same conditions as an actual test?

As much as possible you want your performance on your baseline test to indicate how you would perform if you were taking an actual ACT or SAT. This means that you are following the given instructions for each section, recording your answers on a bubble sheet with a number two pencil, using an approved calculator, taking the full test in a single sitting, and completing the test within the officially allotted time. Again, taking SAT and ACT baseline tests in a classroom or testing center will provide you with a more realistic testing environment than taking the test at home or in another familiar setting.

Don’t forget about accommodations!

If you have been granted any accommodations, you should take your baseline test under the conditions approved by the testing company.

Is the baseline SAT or ACT an official test written by the actual test company?

You want to make sure when taking an ACT baseline test that the test you take is an official test recently produced by ACT and that the SAT you take is an official test recently written by the College Board. Some tutoring firms cobble together their own tests from official questions or proctor tests written by test prep companies. Many unofficial tests do not reflect the content or level of difficulty of actual tests. Also, an unofficial test will only be able to accurately indicate your raw score, the number of questions you answered correctly. If you take official tests, you can compare your scores to those of other students who took the test and approximate your scaled score, the score colleges look at (1-36 for the ACT, and 400-1600 for the SAT).

Will someone help me understand my baseline results?

If you are proctoring your own test, it is important to review your answers so that you know your strengths and weaknesses and can spend your preparation time wisely. If you are taking an SAT or ACT baseline test at a tutoring firm, a tutor may be available to review your results with you and discuss a potential tutoring plan. Please note—some tutoring firms charge for consultations while others offer them as a complimentary service. It’s always best to check in advance, so be sure to ask!

Contact Marks Education to sign up for a free, official, professionally proctored ACT or SAT.

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