Last year, about 70% of high school graduates went on to college. In order to do that, they all had to take college entrance exams. In a traditional school, the guidance counselor would provide help and advice. But, where does a homeschool high school kid get advice? I wrote this little guide as a primer to help you. Before you know it, you’ll be able to spout off college entrance exams acronyms like a pro.
Parents – please read this and then pass it on to your high schooler. Put them in the driver’s seat, and have them take ownership of their education. They should be the ones planning and preparing, not you. Too many kids get to college and really don’t know why they are there or don’t really care how well they do. It’s just another thing adults are forcing them to do. They will be more successful if they have ownership of their own education.
Now, high schoolers. This is YOUR job to become familiar with the different tests, plan out a test schedule and prepare yourself. YOU are the one (hopefully!) going off to college in a few years. Seek out your parents advice (and listen to it!) and begin to take control of your future. 🙂
College Entrance Exams
PSAT/NMSQT, ACT and SAT
What the heck are all these acronyms and what are you supposed to do with them?
PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test)
The PSAT/NMSQT is an optional test you take in the fall of your junior year. It is primarily used as a “pre-test” (it doesn’t show up on your college applications) and it is used to qualify for National Merit Scholarships. It also offers a fairly accurate assessment of how you will do on the actual SAT. Your results will show areas that need improvement, so you can focus your test preparation on those areas.
Schools usually make all the arrangements for students to take the PSAT. Homeschoolers will need to make arrangements with a local high school to take the test. PSAT/NMSQT Registration has information on making test arrangements.
ACT (American College Testing)
The ACT has four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science; and it focuses on testing your knowledge base. The test is 3 hours 35 minutes, and offers an optional Writing Test. Scores range from 1-36 for each section, and you are given a composite score that combines all your scores. Students typically start taking the ACT during their junior year.
ACT Online Registration (includes dates & locations of tests)
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)
The SAT has two main sections: Evidence Based Reading and Writing, and Math, and focuses on assessing your reasoning skills. The test is 3 hours 50 minutes, and also offers an optional Essay Test. You’ll get one score for each section, and a perfect score is 800, and a cumulative of 1600. However, you will be taking four tests with the SAT – Reading, Writing, Math – No Calculator, and Math – Calculator. Like the ACT, students usually take the SAT during their junior year.
ACT vs. SAT – Which test do you take?
The tests are similar, but which one do you take? Here are a few factors to consider:
- School choice – if you have a particular school in mind, then take the test they prefer.
- Strengths – if you have good reasoning/critical thinking skills, then look at taking the SAT. If your knowledge base is stronger, then take the ACT.
- Location – typically, colleges in the midwest predominately accept the ACT, while those on the coasts take the SAT. But that doesn’t mean you HAVE to take one instead of the other. Just do your research.
Many colleges will accept either test, and they have concordance tables to help them compare ACT and SAT scores. I suggest you take a practice test for both at home, and that will give you an idea of which test plays to your strengths.
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT also offers individual subject tests that may be required by colleges. These tests are one hour long, and cover Science (Biology-Ecological, Biology-Molecular, Chemistry or Physics), Math, Foreign Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.), English Literature and History (US, World). Be sure to check college websites early to see if SAT Subject Tests are required, so you can add them to your testing schedule.
College admission offices often disregard homeschool transcripts. In order to give them a better assessment of your application, some colleges might require homeschoolers to take these specialized tests
Ideally, you’ll be done with college entrance exams by the beginning of Senior year, so you can focus on college applications during the fall semester (in addition to your regular class work load). With the following schedule, you’ll have all the information you need to narrow your college application choices, well before you start applying to colleges.
- June, between Sophomore & Junior year – homeschoolers should contact a local school to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT.
- Junior Year
- August – begin test preparation
- October – take the PSAT/NMSQT
- December – review your PSAT results and make adjustments to your test prep studies. Rather than studying everything, focus on your weakest subjects.
- January – signup for ACT/SAT in February or March
- February or March (depending on which test you are taking) – take your first official test. By taking it early, you have a chance to retake the test multiple times if you are not happy with your scores.
- April – August – retake the test if needed. Be sure to signup at least a month before you plan to take the test.
- Senior Year
- September – December – you can still take the tests, but you’ll want to keep an eye on college application deadlines. Many schools have deadlines as early as November 1st (for early acceptance), but most are due in December and January. Be sure to leave enough time to get your scores to schools before their deadlines.
I hope that gives you a good idea of the basics of college entrance exams. See my other posts in this series:
- 10 Free Resources to Help Prepare for the PSAT/ACT/SAT
- What To Do After Taking the College Entrance Exams