October 22, 2014



American College Testing


The purpose of the ACT is to determine a student’s proficiency on a national scale. ACT scores are required by most colleges and universities for admission and some also require the optional Writing portion of the test which consists of an essay. The ACT includes tests (35-50 minutes each) for English, math, reading, and science. Skills measured include problem solving, drawing conclusions, and interpreting charts and graphs


The ACT scale is 1-36. Check the websites of possible colleges and universities for specific admissions requirements concerning ACT scores. Like it or not, most college admissions (and many scholarships) do rely heavily on ACT scores. For a homeschooled student to be competitive in the college and scholarship application process, the ACT should be taken repeatedly in order to earn the highest score possible. The highest ACT score earned should then be listed on your student's high school transcript. The more objective test scores that a homeschooled student can submit when applying to colleges and for scholarships, the better, including the ACT, PSAT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests. These test scores also serve to objectively confirm the GPA listed on the student's transcript. Since many colleges and universities now use the online Common Application for admissions, the maintaining of thorough and accurate records during high school will help you to be prepared to complete the application process. Many colleges and universities now have a page devoted to homeschooled students.


The ACT is typically taken during the Junior year (11th grade), but a student may begin taking the test earlier for practice. The test may be taken in 12th grade, but keep in mind that the scores need to be reported before college applications are due. Plan to take the ACT more than once in order to obtain the highest score possible. The ACT is offered about five times a year and appears to typically be given on Saturday mornings. Our boys began taking the ACT in 11th grade for a total of 2-3 times each.


Registration is completed online and the student's admission ticket is printed out. The admission ticket and a photo ID are required to take the test on test day. Here in KY we had official photo ID's made at the clerk's office where driver's licenses are issued. The ID's look just like driver's licenses except they are in "portrait" format instead of "landscape". Use the Home School Code when registering for the ACT to be acknowledged as a homeschooled student and to have the test results sent directly to your home. 


Check for testing center locations on the ACT website. Our boys took the ACT on the campus of a local public university where students were tested in groups of about 25 students in several classrooms.


The cost to take the ACT is $38.00 ($54.50 with the optional Writing test) and includes score reports sent to four colleges, if desired. Later, when applying for admission to colleges, the best test score earned can then be sent to the colleges of your choice for a fee of $12.00. Check the ACT website for current costs. 


We used multiple editions of The Real ACT Prep Guide. Each edition has different sets of questions. Using The Real ACT Prep Guide is an excellent way to prepare and our family highly recommends it. After using that book, you may or may not decide to work with additional practice books such as McGraw-Hill's 10 ACT Practice Tests, 1,296 ACT Practice Questions by The Princeton Review, and Kaplan's ACT. Please note that practice books from the same publisher printed in different years (different editions of the same title) may contain the exact same content but have different covers, so purchase practice books from different publishers to assure actually having different sets of questions. We purchased several test prep books at a time from Amazon in order to get free shipping. Test practice books were available from our local public library with a refundable deposit. Many of the questions in the practice books are taken from actual, previous ACT tests and answers are typically provided in the back of the book. Test prep books are not very expensive and proved to be very effective. We saw no need to spend money on the many test prep services available out there. You and your student really can do test prep on your own. Be aware that there are LOTS OF SCAMS involving testing and test prep materials... it is big business, especially since college admissions tests are required and you well know that parents want their students to do well on these tests.


The way our family approached test prep is NOT the way you will typically find described in the instructions of test prep books. We believe our approach was much more practical and beneficial. We chose to make test prep a pleasant learning experience, taking all the time needed to answer the questions and learning along the way. Hereafter are the details of what we did and what we suggest.


Begin taking practice tests early in order to become familiar with the format of the test and the types of questions asked. This will help to significantly reduce nervousness on test day and to help the student to approach the test with confidence.

Our boys practiced one section (not an entire test) every afternoon "religiously" right after lunch, UN-timed, taking all the time they needed to answer the questions and then they checked and corrected all their errors. Completing just one section each day, UN-timed, eliminates the added pressure of time constraints. Timing a practice test simply adds unnecessary stress to an already difficult task. Take all the time needed on daily practice tests in order to get the correct answers and to build confidence. Increased speed comes naturally with time. Take a TIMED test only occasionally, since timing definitely adds a stress factor. (Note that test prep books typically suggest that you time every single practice session, but we feel that added pressure only stresses and frustrates the students more so that the whole test prep thing becomes a bad experience.)


After taking each practice test, it is extremely beneficial for the student to correct all the mistakes made and to learn from them. Sometimes a topic would pop up that hadn't been covered yet in our regular high school lessons, so we would take time to research that topic and have a "crash course" on the spot. This is exactly what happened with trigonometry. Since our boys hadn't taken a trig course yet, my husband prepared a trig "crash course" covering all the basics.


The writing portion of the ACT is optional but is also required by many universities. Our boys found it helpful to have a few general themes in mind that could be readily used and adapted for the writing prompts. Students should be mindful of the audience that reads and scores the actual essay written for the test and write content accordingly. 

Test prep is not just test prep. Since the work a student puts into test prep can be demanding, time consuming, and a very real learning experience in itself, the time devoted to English, reading, math, science, and writing can definitely count towards high school credits as supplemental activities for those subjects. Since so many practice essays were written during our daily test prep practice sessions, they were included in our required high school English courses for credit and the essays included in our boys' writing portfolios. The Writers INC handbook proved to be an extremely useful resource, providing step-by-step instruction and samples for the various types of essays.

This was our low-cost, low-stress, full-benefit approach to test prep, but it did require a commitment from each of us to practice regularly. For us, test prep was every afternoon, Monday through Friday, immediately after lunch. Our boys were motivated to work hard and do what was necessary because they realized that higher scores meant better chances at being accepted to top-ranked universities. 

With the flexibility we have as homeschoolers, we can adequately prepare and equip our students to be confident and competent test-takers. Begin preparing your student for college admissions testing well before high school by utilizing rigorous curriculum and by giving tests regularly (quizzes, chapter tests, unit tests, standardized tests, etc.) to build a strong academic foundation and to approach tests without "freaking out". There is a big difference between "studying to the test" and developing strong test-taking skills. The approach that I explained above worked for us... and hopefully some of these tips will help you and your student, too.


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