Testing for College
What the Tests Mean -
How to Prepare

Studying for SAT

Just the thought of testing for college can cause some students (and moms) to despair. But good preparation can often make the difference between a so-so score and a score that makes the admissions office sit up and take notice.

Preparing for the tests needs to be done early on by teaching with solid curriculum and encouraging varied and challenging reading.

Scroll down to find information on the PSAT, the SAT, the ACT, Advanced Placement, and CLEP testing.

The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test and SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) are prepared by the College Board. The College Board is a not-for-profit examination board in the United States that was formed in 1900 as the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB). The name was changed but the purpose has remained the same.

Basically, they have put together a set of tests - the SAT that college bound students must take. The tests cover reading, math, and since 2005 writing skills. Each section is scored separately and the total score a student receives is supposed to enable college admissions offices to determine what that student knows and how well-prepared they are for college academics.

In reality what the SAT tests do measure is how well the student did at taking the SAT. So, that is what your preparation must teach your student to do.

It isn't enough to thoroughly learn the subjects they'll need to graduate, your student needs to learn how to score well on the SAT by understanding how the test is structured, how the questions may be worded, and how to pace themselves on each section.

The good news is... that is just what the guide books for testing for college provide. They cover the 'secrets' of getting a better than average SAT score... as long as your student knows the academic material. And although many guides provide 'practice tests', they do not teach the material covered on the tests.

Your high schooler should take the PSAT in the fall of his Junior year if possible, work on gaps or weak areas and take the SAT in the spring of his junior year. Again concentrate on gaps over summer vacation and retake the test one more time in the fall of his senior year.

If you live more in the eastern part of the United States, your testing for college may consist of the ACT (American College Test). The ACT assesses high school students' general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work.

The multiple-choice tests cover four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science.
The Writing Test, which is optional, measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.

There is online prep available at the ACT website.

To test into college, you must take either the SAT or the ACT, but if you would like the opportunity to "test out" of some college courses, you will need to prepare for and take the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests.

'CLEPing' as it is sometimes called works for the independent student with the ability to focus and absorb details. CLEP tests are written by the College Board and study guides are readily available.

Reasons you may want to take one or more CLEP tests: (taken from the College Board website)

  • Save time. Depending on your college's CLEP policy, a satisfactory score on a CLEP exam can earn you from 3 to 12 college credits.
  • Save money. The cost of a CLEP exam is $70 ($72, effective July 1, 2009), a fraction of the tuition and fees for the corresponding course.
  • Make college more interesting. Skip general introductory courses and move on to more advanced classes, or explore new and challenging academic areas.
  • Graduate on time. CLEP can help you to the finish line if you're a few credits shy of graduation
  • Satisfy a proficiency requirement. Demonstrate your ability in college math or a foreign language.

How to go about taking a CLEP test: (also from the College Board website)

  • Find out if your college accepts CLEP. Use the CLEP college search and talk to your admissions office, test center, or academic advisor.
  • Read descriptions of all 34 exams and decide which to take. Register to take your exam(s) by contacting a CLEP test center and making an appointment.
  • Start studying. Get a college textbook and review sample questions.
  • Take your test!

To use the CLEP college search, read descriptions of the exams, or find a test center and its schedule - visit the College Board website.

AP (Advanced Placement) Program is also administered by the College Board. This is something I wish we'd known more about a few years ago when Jenny was in high school. College level courses are taught during the high school years at the high school or...

Homeschooled students who don't want to attend the classes at a high school can still participate. Each year hundreds of students participate through independent study. Some states even sponsor online AP courses. Call your high school and ask to speak to the person in charge of this opportunity.

So, remember, testing for college doesn't need to cause indigestion or lack of sleep... just help your student to prepare by aiding him in choosing good reading material, mastering his high school courses, and providing him with a college testing study guide.

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