When should you start ACT and SAT test prep for your homeschool student?
The answer will vary by family, but as a general guideline, we say: Probably sooner than you think!
Why is test prep so important for homeschoolers?
Homeschool families usually sacrifice a great deal of time and money to educate their children at home. We often have more children and less parental income than other families close to us.
As a result, college scholarships can make a great difference when parents are balancing their budgets and wondering how to afford higher education for some (if not all) of their children.
Sometimes the best way homeschoolers can get college scholarships is to make high ACT and SAT test scores. If you’re a college-bound homeschooler, your goal should be perfect scores, or as close to perfect as possible.
If you can achieve that, you can get free college almost anywhere. Not only will colleges pay tuition expenses in full, but they can also offer extra stipends beyond books, room and board.
Another thing to consider: Children in Kansas’ public school system receive free ACT test prep, which can start in middle school or earlier.
Homeschoolers unfortunately cannot get this (as of this writing), but we can help prepare our children in many free and low-cost ways … which we’ll cover later in this blog post.
How do I begin ACT and SAT test prep?
We have some recommendations for middle school and earlier, many years before your student is even a high school junior.
While you can go overboard on the test prep, you can still take some important steps even in the elementary and middle school years. We’ll start with those first…
For elementary and middle school
1. Emphasize reading comprehension ability.
Both the ACT and SAT have reading comprehension sections, where students must read a short passage and then answer questions based on it.
Reading aloud to your children at almost any age – from babies to middle school and beyond – have produced many benefits in a number of studies (learn more in this “World Read Aloud Day” article).
Homeschoolers will probably also want to take advantage of resources such as Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival to hone their reading skills.
2. Study Greek, Latin, and French roots.
If your children know common vocabulary prefixes, roots, and suffixes in Greek and Latin (and French also can help), they already have an advantage!
Some homeschool programs such as Classical Conversations will incorporate Latin studies into their curriculum. You can also introduce Greek, Latin and/or French into homeschooling … and count it toward test prep!
3. Explore well-known historical documents.
The College Board website explains how the SAT includes a section on “U.S. founding documents or the global conversation they inspired.”
To help prepare your students for this, teach them the history and importance of writings such as the Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers, and Declaration of Independence.
Other writers that the College Board cites as examples are Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Edmund Burke.
4. Get used to Scantrons and timers!
This applies especially to homeschoolers who don’t take standardized tests on a regular basis!
While Kansas does not require standardized tests for homeschool families (although some states do), we still recommend that you consider it for your children, particularly if they are preparing for college.
MPE offers a Stanford Achievement Test for grades K-11 to homeschoolers every year in the spring. While this won’t count toward college, it still helps break students in for the test-day experience.
These are just some examples:
- filling in test bubbles with a No. 2 pencil (not so sharp that the lead breaks, and not so dull that it slows you down!)
- pacing oneself through timed sections
- getting used to sitting still for hours at a time
- finding the right snacks for breaks that give an energy boost without a sugar crash!
For your student’s junior year
5. Take the PSAT to try qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship.
The Pre-SAT or PSAT is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. If students score in the top percentile, they may qualify for national merit scholarships.
Bonus tip: While your student can take the PSAT in their sophomore year, their scores won’t qualify them for the National Merit Scholarship. They must take the PSAT in their junior year for their scores to qualify.
Second bonus tip: The PSAT can occur later in the school year than earlier opportunities to take the SAT. Often high school juniors will take their SAT first, then the PSAT.
Because the SAT is designed to be harder, taking the PSAT afterward can help you get a better score (and maybe place a little higher in the competition for those National Merit Scholarships).
MPE also offers the PSAT to homeschoolers every year in October.
6. Write the number of times you plan to take the ACT and SAT.
When my mom homeschooled us, she made us study super hard for the ACT and SAT in the fall of our junior year before we took them. Her schedule: SAT in September, PSAT in October, then ACT in the spring.
If we scored high enough on the first try, we didn’t have to take the ACT or SAT again. But if we didn’t score high enough, we could still take either test (or both) in the fall of our senior year!
Needless to say, test-taking wasn’t my favorite thing to do, which made for powerful motivation to get my scores high the first time.
7. Focus on taking the test, not just the subject being tested.
So your student is supposed to know math, reading, writing, science … all the subjects the ACT and SAT supposedly tests.
But guess what? In real life, you aren’t stuck to a chair, poring over multiple-choice questions as the timer ticks. You can take advantage of numerous test-taking strategies specific to the ACT and SAT to maximize your chances of success.
My mom invested in a test prep book for us, along with a book of full-length practice tests that we spaced out in the weeks and months before test day.
The way the schedule ran, we would take one full-length practice test at the beginning of our training period. Our first score would usually shock and horrify everyone (including us).
Then we used that baseline to identify our weak areas and devoted hours of prep to improve those parts. Meanwhile, we still followed our test prep schedule to learn test-taking strategies in our strong areas, to improve our scores there even more.
8. Make test prep an integral part of your lesson plans.
While you can begin rigorous test prep even a year or so before the test, you probably want to increase the amount of time in the 2-3 months just before test day.
Some homeschool students will even take a sample full-length practice test every other day or so, in the weeks leading up to the event!
Remember to use a stopwatch and try to simulate day-of-test conditions as much as possible. No use taking the test every evening, if you’re planning to sit for it in the morning.
To set aside those hours, make them part of your homeschool lesson plan. It’s OK if other subjects and activities take a back seat to your test prep. Keep your eyes on the goal!
9. Consider using verification services if you plan to retake the tests.
The SAT provides two verification service options for test-takers: the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) or the Student Answer Service (SAS).
If you order either of these services, the information will appear with your score report online. You can see a report showing how you answered questions, along with more information about the test questions’ type and difficulty.
Likewise, the ACT allows you to request a digital copy of your test questions and answers through its Test Information Release (TIR) service.
10. Ditch the instruction-reading.
If your child hasn’t taken sample tests and practiced extensively in the months leading up to the test, they may waste valuable time reading over the instructions and getting used to the test’s format.
Remember, tests don’t always simulate real life. Your job is to get as many right answers as possible, not necessarily understand every concept!
The test instructions are the same for every test, so your student should learn just to go straight to the questions whenever they hit a new section.
Bonus tip: Wondering what to write for that pesky high school registration code when you’re filling out the test info? Memorize the code for homeschool students, which is 970000!
- Scholarships & Financial Aid Opportunities for Homeschoolers
- 4 Ways The PSAT Can Help Homeschool Students
- Our webpage on all things Standardized Testing – college test dates and registration deadlines, free test prep resources, a special test prep offer for HSLDA members, and more!
- The College Board website (SAT)