As much as I recommend taking practice tests in realistic testing environments to get a feel for what the real thing will be like, the actual test is likely to feel different. You can't reasonably prepare for every situation and scenario you might encounter, but you can make sure you know how to handle anything, so don't worry! I've put together a list of things you can expect so you're not caught off guard on test day.
Your testing center should ideally already be familiar to you before the morning of the SAT, at least geographically. (If you've never been to the site before, I always recommend traveling to the test center at least once in the days before the test in order to avoid any confusion or hiccups later.) But you won't get a chance to actually experience that environment until you sit down to take the test.
Note that sometimes test centers can be located fairly far from you. If that is the case, there are certain situations in which you can request a closer testing center.
In addition to visiting the testing site ahead of time, I also recommend leaving early. You can never truly anticipate issues with traffic or transit, so don't take any risks! Unless otherwise noted on your admission ticket, your testing center will open its doors at 7:45 a.m. and will close them promptly at 8 a.m. When you arrive, you'll check in and receive a seat assignment (yes, there's even a seating chart). Once there, your proctor will give you further instructions.
Your proctor is there for a few reasons. The first is to give you the instructions for each section of the test. Now, while some proctors will read these verbatim, others might breeze right through them. I recommend familiarizing yourself with these beforehand, and if you read through past tests from the College Board you'll already have a head start.
The proctor will keep track of the time for each section, telling you when to start and stop (and making sure you do, indeed, stop!). They should also give five-minute warnings before the end of each section, but sometimes this doesn't happen. That's why it's best to bring your own valid (non-smart) watch as part of your SAT test day essentials stash.
You will get two breaks during your SAT. One is ten minutes and the other is five. These are the only times throughout the test when you are allowed to eat or drink. There are a few important things to remember during your breaks:
- Never take an answer sheet, a test booklet or your calculator into the hall with you — these must always remain inside the testing room.
- You must present your ID and admission ticket each time you enter the room, so keep this with you on breaks as well.
- Cell phones are not allowed even on a break. If you are caught using one, you risk having your score invalidated.
Short answer: No! Long answer: Returning to a previous portion of the SAT after that section has ended is considered cheating. Obviously, it is not okay to look at any answer sheets around you for help, but you might not realize how strict the time limits on each section truly are. Even if you don't intend to alter your answer sheet, I don't recommend flipping back to look at previous questions in the test booklet either. The College Board doesn't mess around when it comes to security, so be careful about how you behave in the testing room — you don't want to do anything that could even be perceived as an attempt to cheat.
Generally speaking, if you're taking the Essay portion, you should be done sometime around 1 p.m. If you're not taking the Essay, you may be done around noon. However, College Board may give you an extra section if you're not taking the Essay, so don't make any plans to catch a 12:30 showing of a movie!
You've already set yourself up for a great advantage on the SAT by diligently studying the material and practicing strategies for pacing and time, so don't let any of the logistics be a surprise to you on test day. Your comfort is crucial to your success, and being familiar with the process, policies and potential environments will ensure nothing throws you off your game.
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