Misconception One: All test prep books are created equal. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You should be using test prep books that feature real (official) practice tests- that’s it. You can purchase a book of official tests, or you can get them online for free. The reason why you should only practice on real tests is because no one has managed to mimic the tests very well (I can easily recognize a “fake” SAT or ACT when I take one), and a critical part of preparing for the SAT or ACT is becoming familiar with the actual test. Also, please be wary of test prep companies that write their own practice tests- these tests are often very different from the real thing and do not provide you with helpful practice.
Misconception Two: The best way to prepare is to take a bunch of practice tests. Students often come to me because they’ve taken a lot of practice tests and seen no improvement in their scores. As an SAT and ACT tutor, it makes perfect sense why this happens: taking practice tests doesn’t teach you what you don’t know. Instead of churning through test after test, I would recommend using my four step approach: take a test, analyze your mistakes by pinpointing the causes of all of your errors, learn the concepts or skills you’ve discovered you’re missing, and then take another test. The path to a better score involves repeating that process until you’ve eliminated all of your mistakes and mastered the relevant content.
Misconception Three: I should measure my progress with my weekly scores. The reality is, scores wax and wane with fatigue, time of day, distraction, etc. Making meaning out of every score can be exhausting, stressful, and often misleading. A student who takes a practice test at night after a long week at school, for example, may get a score far worse than is normal for her. Instead of measuring progress with your score, I would recommend measuring it in terms of the skills you’ve been working on. Each week, set clear skill goals– what are you going to work on? Then, at the end of the week, if you’ve reached your skill goal, you have made progress. The path to a better score is 100% about skill development, so let the way you think about progress reflect that.