Did you say, "No practice exams?"
There are no practice exams on this website. You may rightfully ask, “Why not?” Here’s why: practice exams in non-official (non-College Board or non-ACT) publications are not “normed.” You’ve probably heard of “norm-referenced tests” or “standardized tests.” These terms lead us to a field of study called “Measurement.” Simply put, if Measurement were a three-legged stool, the legs would be:
This means that (1) a large number of people take the same test under the same conditions (it’s “standardized”), (2) the test measures what it is suppose to measure (it’s “valid”) and (3) taking the test again will yield very nearly the same score (it’s “reliable”).
Look at this graph. It shows the “bell curve” or “normal curve” that results from a large standardized test like one section of the SAT. The percent of test-takers who’ll score between different levels are depicted. Non-official practice tests would not yield this “normal” curve. Their resulting curve would be "bellish" but wouldn't have the nice balanced “bell” shape—their results is what is said to be “skewed” or distorted.
There are PhD’s out there who make their livings studying Measurement. Understand that it’s tricky, tricky stuff! Without getting into too many details, the three legs of the stool listed above imply a few things…
- Each individual standardized test question is scrutinized as to its difficulty, possible bias, etc. This is why they have “experimental sections” during the exam—they’re testing future questions. In those cases, ironically, the question isn’t used to test the student, but the student is used to test the question.
- SAT or ACT results and difficulty levels between one year and the next can be compared with great reliability.
- Non-official practice exams are not standardized. The test questions have not been “tested themselves” and there is not a huge group of people taking the exams for purposes of analyzing each question and the entire test. Even if the questions were analyzed for difficulty, it would still be necessary to norm the difficulty level with the College Board or ACT.
- Non-official practice exams may or may not be valid, and thus cannot be considered reliable.
- Therefore, non-official practice exams may give you misleading results.
Still, it’s important to realize that SAT and ACT prep books like this one are still valuable! The material and study strategies included are very, very useful. It’s just the practice exams that are questionable.
So, what does this mean to you? Two things:
- non-official practice exams can mislead you
- you should take some official practice exams from the College Board or ACT. For practice’ sake, it’s very important that you take an official and timed practice exam prior to the real exam. Maybe even two exams. Or three! These will give you more trustworthy results.
To get your hands on official practice questions and tests, you’ll need to access the College Board or ACT. Used versions of their guides are also readily available through sites like amazon.com or eBay.