Preparing for the College Bound Exams
If indeed college appears the best direction for your child (see our Career and Vocation planning if you would like alternative suggestions on that as there are literally hundreds of well paying vocations that do not require a lengthy, expensive, or sometimes questionable degree), and after reviewing your target college's specific admittance requirements for homeschoolers, you also need to prepare the student for general college admissions.
That typically means navigating the college bound exams such as the PSAT, the basic SAT or SAT subject tests, or the ACT. Each of those are described more fully below.
A savvy student can eliminate lower level courses by taking the College Board's Advance Placement subject exams or gain actual college credit through the College Board's CLEP subject exams. Both of those are described more fully below as well.
Portland Community College requires neither the SAT or ACT for admission but instead administers their own placement tests to determine a student's starting point for course work. This is also another way to place out of some lower level coursework (for free). It is also a way to circumvent the SAT or ACT by clocking enough successful community college credit (usually 30 credits) before applying to a 4-year institution.
But those who desire to enter a 4-year institution as a freshman will likely need to tackle the college bound exams for admission, typically the SAT or ACT.
The SAT or ACT is generally taken sometime in the 11th grade, usually winter or spring, and often repeated in early 12th to improve scores if needed. It is usually preferable to take the SAT or ACT no later than the fall of 12th grade due to college admission timelines.
Students need a government-issued photo id
All test takers must present a government issued photo id on test day. That usually means a driver's permit or license, it can be a US passport. If your student doesn't have either of those, then you can get an Oregon id card which can be obtained through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Fortunately the DMV has dropped the requirement of Statement of Enrollment from ESD as homeschool parents can now sign the DMV application validating their student is being appropriately schooled. However, you will likely need a clerk certified copy of their birth certificate as one of their validating documents. (That's not the cute one with the inky feet). The Department of Vital Statistics can provide an official copy, for fee of course, but it can take a number of weeks.
It is also possible for home schooled children to have a special id printed up from the College Board, but it requires going to a school administrator and filing a special form, then having them copy it onto their letterhead. The Oregon id would be much simpler.
I think you can glean that you can't just show up on test day to take one of these tests. You have to have the appropriate id and pre-register.
The PSAT (or the PSAT/NMSQT) is often taken in 10th grade as a practice for the regular SAT. It also determines eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship. No college requires the PSAT for admission (that I am aware of). The PSAT's sole purpose is the NMSQT scholarship.
The PSAT must be taken in 11th grade if it is to be used for merit scholarship eligibility.
The PSAT is only offered 2 days in October, and homeschoolers have to contact a local high school to be included in their testing day. Be aware that most schools have ordered their test packets by August (latest) to meet required deadlines. Not all schools are eager to order extra packets.
I have known several homeschooling high schoolers who have actually won the NMSQT and used the funds for college. While it is a bit like winning the lottery (although actual skill is involved), admittedly, the chances of the average student winning the NMSQT is small....but possible...so study up for that test!
Go to the College Board site for free helps for the PSAT or check Amazon. Princeton and Kaplan are notable publishers of test help materials.
The SAT is divided into the Basic SAT (formerly known as the SAT I) and the SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as the SAT II).
The basic SAT is an aptitude test. It attempts to test how well a student reasons rather than strictly testing the amount of information known. Think of it as really tricky word problems and puzzles, both linguistically and mathematically themed, that has a separate writing portion at the end. (Note you have to sign up for that writing portion at time of registration as it is done separately).
It is argued that the SAT does not measure how well a student will actually do in college but how well a student takes the SAT. But alas, most colleges still rely upon its scores for admission.
Because of this, students should prepare for the world of SAT. The College Board offers practice tests and aids through Khan Academy. We recommend online helps from Kaplan or Princeton as they walk a student through the language of the SAT and smart test taking techniques.
It has been said that those students who like mental puzzles and abstract challenges rather than memorized details do best on the SAT (your typical engineering type). The liberal arts type student may do better on the ACT (see info on that test later in this article).
Usually all SAT scores are sent to the college, though the College Board now offers a "score choice" feature to send your best test day. However many colleges require all scores be sent, and you can't split your test days sending math from one day and reading from another. Some colleges average all the scores creating a "super score" while others only take the highest. Some don't like to see a low score and then a high score as they are looking for consistency. Therefore, check with your target college to see how your scores will be treated.
Registering for the SAT is easy for homeschoolers. You can register and pay for the basic SAT online at the College Board. The basic SAT is offered at local high schools 7 Saturdays a year from August to June, but not all locations offer all possible dates. Registration deadlines are several months before the test date, so register early as slots fill quickly.
Scores are available online 4 to 6 weeks after test day. Scores are sent directly to your chosen colleges if you indicated such at registration, otherwise, there is a fee to send a certified copy to them.
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT Subject Tests are a series of subject tests sometimes required by colleges for academic placement or admissions consideration, especially if they are a highly competitive top-tier school.
Some colleges try to require the Subject Tests for homeschooled applicants to prove proficiency, although the legality of doing so if homeschoolers are singled out is questionable. We've noted that a number of Oregon Colleges now list on their website that two SAT Subject tests are required for homeschooled applicants in addition to the basic SAT or ACT.
These colleges further recommend that one of the SAT Subjects tests required of the homeschooler be a foreign language to fulfill the foreign language pre-requisite for entrance. We've also noted that these same colleges do not require this of other applicants, and some have even waived the basic SAT requirement for public school students if they are above a certain grade point average. Obviously some gracious advocacy may be in order on behalf of homeschoolers.
Be sure to check the college's policy on how they will use the SAT Subject Tests. Sometimes the college will use the SAT Subject test for more than an admittance requirement but will also offer Advance Placement or even early college credit. (See more on that further below).
If a college doesn't require the SAT Subject tests, but is willing to use them for advance placement or college credit, it may be worthwhile to consider having your student take some of the Subject Tests to skip lower freshman courses or to get a few general education requirements out of the way.
SAT subject tests are equally easy to register and pay for online. Again, register early to assure you can get a testing location and desired tests in the time frame you need. Test scores are handled the same as the basic SAT with typically all scores being sent to your chosen colleges if indicated as such at registration.
The ACT is a standardized achievement test that many colleges use to determine college proficiency for admissions. Some colleges require the SAT while others require the ACT. Some take either one. If a college takes either, choose the test that best fits your student's personality type.
The Act is more of what you expect for an end of year, end of high school, test of basic knowledge. For that reason, many students appreciate its more direct approach versus the mental puzzles of the SAT.
The ACT can be easily registered for online at the ACT website. It is offered 7 times throughout the school year at public high schools. Note not all high schools will have all test dates. So again, search and register early to be certain you can get a date and location you desire.
The ACT can be taken up to 12 times (most don't!) Only the best score is sent to colleges, so there is no penalty for retaking the test. Exam results are available online 4 to 6 weeks after the test date. Chosen colleges receive scores directly if you have indicated such on your registration.
The ACT website offers test aids as does many publishers you can find on Amazon. Again, we recommend Kaplan or Princeton for test help.
Advance Placement versus College Credit Exams
Always check how the particular college will use any of the AP, CLEP or SAT Subject Test exams. Individual college policy determines if any of these tests are accepted and how the tests will be used, and sometimes there is a bit of overlap.
The Difference between Advance Placement and College Credit by Exam (what do those terms actually mean)
Advance placement generally means that certain lower freshman classes are skipped and the student starts their education in upper level courses. However, the total number of credits for graduation may not be reduced. This provides the student an opportunity to focus on courses not previously mastered and may open up some scheduling flexibility, but generally does not reduce the cost or time spent in college.
The Advance Placement (AP) Tests and the SAT Subject tests are generally used for that type of advance placement.
College credit by exam means that the test is used to gain actual college credit which applies towards the college's total number of credits needed for graduation. This obviously reduces the number of courses taken at college tuition prices and can reduce the total amount of time in college.
The CLEP is used for college credit by exam. Go to the College Board CLEP page to register and pay for a CLEP subject exam (currently, as of September 2022, $89 per exam). However, you will have to contact the testing center directly to actually reserve a test appointment time (test site locations are provided through the CLEP site).
Many colleges have CLEP/AP credit equivalency sheets posted on their websites. (Search the college website for CLEP or AP credits.)
Check the College Board website for free or relatively inexpensive preparation material. Most bookstores and Amazon.com sell a variety of CLEP, AP and SAT Subject prep materials. We have liked the Kaplan or Princeton materials in the past. Also the REA's CLEP books were helpful.
We have used Speedy Prep which is an online CLEP prep site. It seemed helpful for the short time my son used it to cram for a CLEP to get a forgotten requirement out of the way; however, at $30 monthly subscription fee, it may not prove worth the dollars depending on how long a student needed to use it or if any half price trial period was not sufficient.
How the Tests Differ (as to style and availability)
The CLEP tests and SAT Subject tests are considered easier to prepare for and take than the AP tests which require specialized curriculum.
The CLEP and SAT Subject Tests do not require specialized curriculum but test material generally covered by many normal high school or college courses.
The CLEP is offered throughout the year. Many testing centers offer the CLEP at regular office hours or through pre-arranged appointment since the material is on a computer station that can be accessed any time the center is open. Scores are given immediately.
The SAT Subject is usually given at the same time as the basic SAT, which means it is given at registered public high schools about 7 times during the school year spanning from October through June. You can register for the SAT Subject online at the College Board site. It is important to register early for your desired date to assure seating availability. Scores are reported in about 4 to 6 weeks.
The AP is a full year, specialized program that generally requires the purchase and use of AP specific curriculum to prepare for a particular AP subject test, however it does allow for individual study for homeschoolers. It also requires advanced AP exams registration and coordination with a participating school which is willing to order extra exam materials to include them on their AP test day. (One source said March 1st is the deadline for such a request). The AP tests are given in May of each year. Scores are reported by July.
Traditionally, the CLEP and SAT Subject Tests were somewhat cheaper than AP tests, but prices vary. The CLEP testing site may also tack on an administration fee on top of the testing fee.
Do prepare ahead and plan test taking wisely. Poor test scores usually can be withheld from desired colleges, but not always--the policy differs a bit between the tests types and circumstances. If your child should fail, there is a waiting period of 6 months to retake that same CLEP subject; your child would have to wait until the next open SAT Subject date and location; or your child would have to wait until the next May to retake the same AP subject test.
Disadvantages of Advanced Placement and Early College Credit
While it often seems like a "no-brainer" to use exams for college credits or advance placement, there can be some disadvantages to this route.
Some colleges may determine a student is ineligible for freshman scholarships (often the most lucrative) if the student has too many CLEP, AP or community college credits, which might offset any financial gain.
Also, some children really stress over and do not perform well on these types of tests. It might be better to simply have them take those general subjects in the normal course of college, especially if they snag a good freshman scholarship.
Further, skipping the "easy" freshman classes to begin in upper level courses could make a student's first year of college more stressful. Your child will have a lot to adapt to already with a new learning, and often living, environment. Classes in familiar, previously mastered, subjects could help to reduce educational stress and thus make the transition easier for that freshman year (and provide an easy A for that first college grade point average).
Finally, preparing for these tests is time-consuming. Attempting to take all or most of them could engulf a lot of your homeschool time as you teach to the tests rather than pursuing other subjects your family and child might prefer or need.
See more information and our local tips about the CLEP and AP tests in our "Tips to Cut College Expense" section.
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