Everything a Homeschooler Needs to Know about College Entrance Exams (PSAT, ACT, SAT, CLT)

College entrance exams — the PSAT, ACT, SAT and CLT — are all important tests that can greatly influence which schools accept your student. Selecting which test to take can be confusing and hard, especially for homeschoolers that do not have a school that is setting the date to issue these tests.

Below we outline the basic facts a homeschooler needs to know about each of these standardized college entrance exams. You can also use these additional resources on guiding your homeschooler to college.

The PSAT: Standardized Test with a Potentially Big Payoff

The Homeschool PSAT Basics

In existence since 1971, the National Merit Scholarship Program offers one door for scholarship opportunities. The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), which is taken the junior year of high school, qualifies a student for this competition.

The PSAT is given once per year on the third Tuesday or Saturday in October. Students of all ages may take the PSAT, but only the test taken in their junior year will be counted towards the National Merit Scholarship qualification.

Section 29.916 of the Texas Education Code requires that public schools offer the PSAT to homeschool students that live in the district. Homeschool students are permitted to take the PSAT at public schools in their district and must pay the same fee as public school students.

The tests must be ordered, so you should contact your local school as soon as possible to inquire about availability. The test costs $16.00 on average, though schools can set their own fee. Assure your school contact (usually the school counselor) that your student’s score will not be calculated with their students’ scores.

PSAT Preparation: Utilize Available Resources

There are several ways to grease the hinges on this door of opportunity. The best way to prepare is having your student take the test at least once prior to their junior year, if possible.

Taking the PSAT early acquaints them with the flow of the whole process and may reduce test anxiety when the scores really count. The score report will allow you to gauge areas of needed study and to work on appropriate test-taking techniques.

You could also visit your local high school to register and get a copy of the PSAT/NMSQT Student Bulletin. In addition to good information, it contains a full-length practice exam. Also, most large bookstores carry test preparation books. The writing section of the PSAT is different than SAT Verbal section, and practice is helpful. Computer programs are also available.

How to Qualify for a National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Corporation receives all PSAT scores of juniors (approximately one million per year), and the competition begins.

The determining factor in qualifying as a semifinalist is the Selection Index score. This score is the sum of the three scores from the verbal, math and writing sections of the test. Each state varies in its cut-off score; out of a possible 240 points (80 points times 3 subtests), the qualifying score for semifinalist in the state of Texas for 1999 was 214. The index score must be in approximately the Top 2 percent of the state to continue in the competition.

The National Merit Corporation notifies 16,000 students in late August that they have achieved semifinalist standing. If your student makes the semifinalist stage, be sure to meet all the deadlines. Yes, they will remove a student from the competition if you submit data late.

A list of semifinalists is then sent to four-year U.S. colleges/universities and also to local newspapers for publication in September. Then, the paperwork begins, and your mailbox begins to fill with college materials. You will need to have good records of all your student’s accomplishments.

Semifinalists qualify as finalists by completing the Merit Scholarship application. This includes:

  • A complete high school transcript (or high school equivalent for homeschoolers)
  • A section on Activities/Awards/Leadership positions
  • A school recommendation
  • A self-descriptive essay

As a homeschool educator, you are authorized to write the school recommendation yourself. However, should you choose to allow someone else to write it, a hint for a great letter of recommendation is to give your recommendation writer a brag sheet about your student. This will allow him or her to comment on specific attributes and contributions that your student has made.

Confirm Your PSAT Registration

After going through this process, check to be sure that the materials have been received. You do not want to hear that your student’s application “must have gotten lost in the mail.” Always make follow-up calls to assure receipt of materials.

Students must also take the SAT within certain time parameters and earn scores that confirm the PSAT performance. At this point, the corporation sends great information specific to homeschoolers about how to proceed with completing the paperwork required.

From the 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 students advance to the Finalist standing, and Certificates of Merit are sent to these students in February. There are three types of Merit Scholarship awards:

  • National Merit $2,500 scholarships
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarships
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarships

All finalists are considered for the 2,500 National Merit $2,500 awards. The 1,200 corporate-sponsored awards have certain criteria that finalists must meet in order to be considered. There are also 4,200 college-sponsored awards for finalists who plan to attend those institutions.

Then, in late January, a committee of experienced college admissions officers and high school counselors meets to choose the winners of National Merit $2,500 scholarships. Here is what the committee members evaluate from each finalist:

  • Academic record
  • Scores on PSAT and SAT
  • The student’s essay
  • Demonstrated leadership in significant activities
  • Contributions to the school and community
  • The school’s written recommendation of the finalist

From the 15,000 finalists, 7,900 Merit Scholars are chosen. In March, the corporation notifies students who are chosen as National Merit Scholars and corporate-sponsored scholarship recipients. Then, the college-sponsored winners are notified in April through June.

The PSAT is utilized by the College Board as a conduit for colleges and universities. Through its Student Search Service, the College Board enables colleges to mail information to students who meet certain criteria and who may be interested in the programs and in majors they offer. Students may check the Student Search Service option on the PSAT exam form to take advantage of this service. However, the College Board does not report specific scores to schools.

It seems incredible for one test to have such an impact on scholarship opportunities. Many schools promote themselves in their materials by stating how many National Merit Scholars and finalists are enrolled. Large institutional scholarships are given as a result of this program.

Besides the PSAT, there are three other tests that offer child scholarship opportunities to your students: the ACT, the SAT and the new CLT.

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Need Help Preparing for College Entrance Exams?

Test Prep and Tutoring Professionals offers free test prep, tools and links for all the study help you’ll need for college entrance exams. Information is available online at testprepprofessionals.com and membership is free.

Should You Take the ACT? 7 ACT Questions Answered

The ACT was created in 1959 as an alternative to the already existing SAT. While it is similar to the SAT in that it is a timed, nationwide college entrance exam, it does involve a very different format. So, is the ACT right for you? Here are the answers to 7 common questions about the ACT.
Everything a Homeschooler Needs to Know about College Entrance Exams (PSAT, ACT, SAT, CLT)

1. What Is the ACT?

The American College Testing (ACT) is a college entrance exam that tests students in English, reading, math, science and an optional essay. The test takes 2 hours and 55 minutes (without essay) or 3 hours and 40 minutes (with essay) to complete.

Specific to homeschoolers, the homeschool ACT code is 969-999.

2. Who Should Take the ACT?

The ACT is geared towards students in their junior year of high school, though all ages are permitted to take the exam.

Only a short amount of time is allotted for each section, so students who are deterred by time restraints may feel pressured. Also, students will need good reasoning and interpretation skills to do well in the science section. They will not need an extensive knowledge of scientific formulas and processes.

3. How Does the ACT Compare to the SAT?

Many people ask, “which is easier: ACT or SAT?” While neither one is necessarily easier than the other, they are quite different.

The ACT and SAT each include questions focused on reading, grammar and mathematics, but they use different methods to test these skills, particularly in the areas of reading and grammar.

The ACT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading and grammar. The test includes an optional essay portion that emphasizes grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.

Comparatively, the SAT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading, grammar and command of evidence. The test includes an optional essay portion which emphasizes vocabulary usage and writing style.

The ACT typically has more geometry and trigonometry questions than the SAT, and the ACT allows a calculator to be used on all math problems. Comparatively, the SAT only allows a calculator to be used for a specified math section. However, it does give students a reference list of mathematical formulas to use during the test; the ACT does not.

The ACT also includes a science section, which the SAT does not have. The biggest difference between the two tests is the time period:

  • ACT (without essay) — 2 hours, 55 minutes
  • ACT (with essay) — 3 hours, 40 minutes
  • SAT (without essay) — 3 hours flat
  • SAT (with essay) — 3 hours, 50 minutes

4. How Is the ACT Scored?

The ACT is scored on a scale of 0-36, with 36 being the maximum score. The exam has 215 questions, divided into four sections. Each section’s correct answers are totaled, then scaled to the scale score. The four scaled scores are averaged together to make your composite score.

The essay portion is scored separately. Two readers will read the essay, and grade each of four domains (ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use) on a scale of 1-6. The corresponding domain scores are added, then those four scores are averaged to give you your final score, which will be between 2 and 12.

5. What Devices Can Be Used During the ACT?

No electronic devices are allowed during the test except for a permitted calculator. You can find a list of permitted calculators at ACT.org. You may bring a cell phone, but you must have it turned off, put away and not accessible at any time during the test.

6. When Can I Take the ACT?

The ACT is offered seven times per year, typically in these months:

  • December
  • February
  • April
  • June
  • July

Registration is now open and the fee is currently $46 (without essay) or $62.50 (with essay).

7. What Colleges Accept the ACT?

Almost all colleges in the United States accept both the ACT and the SAT. They do not hold preference of which score you submit.

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Should You Take the SAT? 7 SAT Questions Answered

The SAT vs ACT by Student Tutor

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is the oldest college entrance exam in existence. It was first created in 1929 to test students on subjects learned in school to predict college readiness. But, is it right for you? Here are the answers to seven common questions about the SAT.

1. What Is the SAT?

The SAT is a college entrance exam that tests students in English, reading and math, plus an optional essay. The test takes three hours (without essay) or 3 hours and 50 minutes (with essay) to complete.

Specific to homeschoolers, the homeschool SAT code is 970000.

2. Who Should Take the SAT?

The SAT is geared towards students in their sophomore or junior year of high school, though all ages are permitted to take the exam.

Students who excel in English typically perform well on the SAT because the SAT math sections are not exceptionally difficult, and the English sections require a good command of grammar.

There are two separate math sections, only one of which allows for the use of a calculator. Therefore, students who constantly rely on calculators may get discouraged or nervous during the test. However, students who can easily navigate math problems without the aid of a calculator will be just fine.

3. How Does the SAT Compare to the ACT?

Many people ask, “which is easier: SAT or ACT?” While neither one is necessarily easier than the other, they are quite different.

The SAT has significantly fewer individual questions than the ACT:

  • SAT: 154 questions
  • ACT: 215 questions

The SAT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading, grammar and command of evidence. It includes an optional essay portion which emphasizes vocabulary usage and writing style.

The ACT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading and grammar. It includes an optional essay portion which emphasizes grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.

Comparatively, the SAT contains fewer geometry and trigonometry questions than the ACT, and only the SAT provides a reference sheet of mathematical formulas to each student.

The SAT does not have a science section, as does the ACT. The biggest difference between the two tests is the time period:

  • ACT (without essay) — 2 hours, 55 minutes
  • ACT (with essay) — 3 hours, 40 minutes
  • SAT (without essay) — 3 hours flat
  • SAT ( with essay) — 3 hours, 50 minutes

4. How Is the SAT Scored?

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400-1600, with 1600 being the maximum perfect score. The test is divided into two scoring sections. Your correct answers in each section are totaled, then scaled to the scale score which will range between 200 and 800. Then, these two scores are added together to make your final composite score, which will range between 400 and 1600.

The essay is graded separately. Two readers will read your essay, and grade each of three domains (reading, analysis and writing) on a scale of 1-4. The corresponding domain scores are added to give you three separate scores on a scale of 2-8. These three scores will be your final scores.

5. What Devices Can be Used During the SAT?

No electronic devices are allowed during the test, except for a permitted calculator. You can find a list of permitted calculators on the College Board website. Keep in mind that you will only be allowed to use the calculator during a specified section of the test.

You may bring a cell phone, but you must have it turned off, put away and not accessible at any time during the test.

6. When Can I Take the SAT?

The SAT is typically offered during these months:

  • December
  • March
  • May
  • June

Registration is now open and the fee is currently $46 (no essay) or $60 (with essay).

7. What Colleges Accept the SAT?

Almost all colleges in the United States accept both the SAT and the ACT. There is no evidence that colleges prefer the ACT or SAT.

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Should You Take the CLT over the ACT and SAT? 7 CLT Questions Answered

A relative newcomer, the Classical Learning Test (CLT), is challenging the two established ways to test into college. Joining the ACT and SAT, the CLT is now available for graduating high school students to use as a standardized college entrance exam.

In 2017, Dr. John T. Vessey of Wheaton College released an extensive report concerning the validity and reliability of the CLT as a college admissions test. In the conclusion of the study, Dr. Vessey states:

The evidence available strongly supports that the CLT total score is a highly reliable and valid measure of a student’s preparedness for college. A student’s CLT total score is stable over time, and provides a very good indication of what his or her score on the ACT or SAT would be, should that student take one of those tests. Because of the high correlation of CLT total scores with ACT composite scores and SAT total scores, it would be reasonable for any college or university to accept a CLT score from a student in lieu of an SAT and ACT score. The college or university could be confident that the CLT score will do as well as the other test scores in predicting who is most likely to succeed at their school.

Should you take the CLT? Here are answers to seven common questions about this newest college entrance exam to help you decide.

1. What Is the Classical Learning Test?

The CLT is an online college entrance exam that focuses on verbal reasoning, grammar, writing and quantitative reasoning.

The exam is considered rigorous and emphasizes Western academic and theological thought.

2. Who Should Take the Classical Learning Test?

The CLT is geared towards students who are in their junior or senior year in high school.

According to Dr. John Vessey, the ideal student for the CLT is “any student that has had a classical education, including both homeschooled students and those who have attended a classical school.”

Dr. Vessey adds: “The kinds of readings selected for the verbal and grammar sections of the CLT will be the exactly the kinds of readings these students have been exposed to throughout their education. CLT scores are highly correlated with both SAT total and ACT composite scores.”

3. How Does the Classical Learning Test Compare to the ACT and SAT?

The CLT, ACT and SAT each include questions focused on reading, grammar and mathematics, but they use different methods to test these skills, particularly in the areas of reading and grammar.

The ACT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading and grammar. It includes an optional essay portion that emphasizes grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.

The SAT uses long passages from literature, social studies, humanities and natural sciences to test students in reading, grammar and command of evidence. It includes an optional essay portion which emphasizes vocabulary usage and writing style.

The CLT uses well-known texts from Western culture to test students in reading and grammar. It does not include a writing option like the ACT and SAT.

The CLT takes significantly less time than the ACT and SAT:

  • CLT — 2 hours
  • ACT (without essay) — 2 hours, 55 minutes
  • ACT (with essay) — 3 hours, 40 minutes
  • SAT (without essay) — 3 hours flat
  • SAT ( with essay) — 3 hours, 50 minutes

In mathematics, all three tests include trigonometry and other high school math skills such as number and quantity, statistics and probability. Comparatively, the ACT typically has more geometry and trigonometry questions than the SAT, and it allows a calculator to be used on all math questions.

The SAT gives the students a reference list of mathematical formulas to use during the test; the ACT does not. Also, the SAT allows a calculator to be used only during a specified math section of the test.

Additionally, the ACT is the only one of three that includes a science section. The science section does not tests students on specific scientific knowledge, rather it tests the students’ ability to comprehend charts and graphs and process given information into reasonable outcomes.

Take a practice test to see just how different the CLT is from other standardized tests.

4. How Is the CLT scored?

The scoring systems of the three tests is dramatically different:

  • ACT maximum score — 36
  • SAT maximum score — 1600
  • CLT maximum score — 120

The ACT has 215 questions, divided into four scoring sections. Each section’s correct answers are totaled, then scaled to the scale score. The four scaled scores are averaged together to make your composite score. The essay portion is scored separately.

The SAT has 154 questions, divided into two scoring sections. Each section’s correct answers are totaled, then scaled to the scale score. The two scaled scores are added together to make your composite score. The essay portion is scored separately.

The CLT has 120 questions, each worth one point. The correct answers are totaled to make your total score. To give you an idea of the expected range, scholarships at these 20 universities start with a score of 58. And, in 2016-17, the highest score on the test was 117.

One thing that all three tests have in common is that students can retest as many times as needed to improve their score.

5. What Devices Can Be Used During the CLT Test?

One major difference between the CLT and the ACT and SAT is that students will need to bring their own laptop to access the exam on their testing date. No other electronic devices are permitted, not even a calculator. You may have a cell phone, as long as it is turned off and secured out of sight.

Students are required to bring their device to their selected testing location fully charged with required software. The test is only two hours, so the device should be able to hold a charge for that long because outlets are not guaranteed.

6. When Can I Take the CLT?

The Classical Learning Test is offered up to five times per year, typically in these months:

  • February
  • May
  • September

Registration is now open and the fee is currently $49.

7. Which Colleges Accept the CLT?

While most colleges accept both the ACT and the SAT, the CLT is the new kid on the block for higher education testing. Year by year, more colleges and universities are accepting it as an option for incoming students.

Currently, over 60 colleges and universities accept the CLT as an admissions exam. You can find a complete list of colleges on the CLT website. This is a great starting point if you have already decided which school you want to attend.

Bonus Question: Is the CLT Fundamentally Different?

Only two years old, the CLT has started quickly out of the gate, indicating that both colleges and students are eager to explore alternatives.

Classical-approach private schools and homeschoolers have touted the CLT as a superior instrument to assess a student’s education, but is it really so different? After all, the test consists of reading passages and answering multiple choice questions that do not require content knowledge, just like the ACT and SAT. And, how fundamentally different can the math section be?

At this early stage, there has been little research about the CLT and how good of an indicator it is of college performance. (Not that the ACT or SAT are such good indicators!)

Many students are also wondering which is easier between the CLT, ACT and SAT. Dr. Vessey is currently conducting independent research on the Classical Learning Test, so stay tuned for the results, as well as more independent reviews and thorough scrutiny should the CLT begin to challenge market share of the two testing giants.

No matter which test your student decides to take, he or she will need to spend a lot of time studying. Reviewing math concepts, grammar rules and writing techniques is a great place to start. Taking a full practice test (or two or three) will best prepare your student. But keep in mind that amidst hours of studying, sometimes taking a break is the best thing to do.

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Everything a Homeschooler Needs to Know about College Entrance Exams (PSAT, ACT, SAT, CLT)

Test Time? Why It’s OK to Relax!

It’s Okay to Relax Before the SAT, ACT or CLT (and it may even improve your performance!)

Studying, especially for college admissions tests, can be physically, mentally, and even emotionally demanding. Homeschool parents, if your students are studying for an extremely long period of time, encourage them to, yes, take a break.

Taking a break is very powerful if you make the most of break time by focusing on breathing and relaxing your body. Rather than labeling this time unproductive, equate it to recharging your iPhone, iPad or other mobile device. You have to recharge in order for the device to function — otherwise it will shut down!

When you are ready to take a break, try this simple exercise to re-focus.

  • Sit in a straight-back chair and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs. (Both palms can be either up or down.)
  • Relax your shoulders by bringing them up high towards your ears and then letting them suddenly drop.
  • Let your head and neck relax; imagine being suspended by a string.
  • Let your body relax with your shoulders sinking and your head suspended.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of five.
  • Exhale through your mouth for a count of five.
  • Focus on your breath, and only your breath.
  • As you continue sitting, increase the count to seven or nine.
  • Focus on your body being energized with each breath and visualize yourself being even more productive when you return to studying.

This simple technique is boiled down to three easy steps: sit, relax and breathe. It only takes one to two minutes to be effective, but you have to push through the initial inclination to think about everything on your mental task list while struggling to sit still.

You will find this practice refreshing and productive as you let your body and mind rest in-between test prep sessions, as well as during sections of the actual test. Using a timer helps prevent worrying about how much time has gone by. When the timer goes off, you know there is ample time to get back to studying or complete the next section.

Give it a try and give yourself the edge of powering up!

Studying for college entrance exams, taking them and submitting scores to colleges is a lot of work. But it is worth it on the day your student graduates high school and you see the future you’ve both worked for while looking forward to the journey ahead.

One last assurance: Occasionally, Texas colleges and universities still discriminate against homeschool graduates. In the unlikely event you should face some problem in the admissions process that is attributable to your homeschooling, please contact our customer service team. THSC has gone to bat for many of its members to resolve many admissions problems.

Did you find this post helpful? Join THSC today for access to more articles and resources useful to homeschoolers. Join now.

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Everything a Homeschooler Needs to Know about College Entrance Exams (PSAT, ACT, SAT, CLT)
Everything a Homeschooler Needs to Know about College Entrance Exams (PSAT, ACT, SAT, CLT)