The Homeschool Advantage in SAT Tests
by Lee Binz
Fill in the bubbles. Number two pencils. Proctors, timed essays.
Bleeech, I say!
Who would voluntarily subject their children to such boredom and torture on an otherwise pleasant Saturday afternoon? I know one person. Me! And I’ll tell you why.
Study for the SAT - It's Not a Waste of Time!
Homeschoolers have an advantage in SAT preparation. Studying for the college entrance exam is very valuable to many college-bound high school students. Research has shown that preparation can increase SAT scores by 100 points. An increase in SAT scores can increase your chance for college admission and academic scholarships. It’s not a waste of time! Making test preparation a regular part of your high school experience will make it much easier for your student to succeed. Public school students may have trouble finding time to prepare for the test, but for homeschoolers it can be a part of your total educational experience.
Like many homeschool parents, I understood that studying for the SAT test was necessary for college admissions and financial aid, but was frustrated that I had to “teach to the test.” My teenagers were also resistant. But the tests measured basic skills. And of all the things you want for children, reading, writing, and math are pretty high on the priority list. Now that we are on the other side, we can all see the benefits that preparation gave us!
- High scores helped my children earn great scholarships
- They learned important essay writing skills
- They mastered math concepts from basic to advanced, and
- They gained confidence in their test-taking abilities.
SAT - The Basics
The SAT is a standardized college entrance exam with three sections that measure reading, writing, and math skills. Each section is graded on a 200-800 scale. For each section, a grade of 500 is average, 600 is good, 700 is great, and 800 is perfect. Because there are 3 sections, a perfect score on the SAT is 2400. When I was a student, a perfect score was 1600 because there were only two sections; verbal and math. The test takes about 4 hours and is given in local high schools. For more information, go to www.collegeboard.com.
Refreshing math skills will be helpful to a struggling student who might benefit from a regular review of concepts. The math section will also help an advanced student, who may not have seen beginning concepts for many years. The reading section has a lot of vocabulary that students need to succeed in college. Instead of buying a vocabulary curriculum, you can use SAT preparation for your vocabulary studies. I have to confess that the writing section, with the essay, is my favorite part of the test. Essay writing is crucial to success in college. My youngest son actually thanked me last month for teaching him to write a quick essay.
Tools to Prepare
Before high school begins, you can prepare for the SAT by providing a quality education that includes “reading, writing and arithmetic.” Penmanship is important as well, since part of the SAT is now a hand-written essay seen by colleges. Homeschooling parents have the advantage on the SAT test when they provide a quality, well-rounded education for their child. But how does a high school student prepare for such a test? There are some great test prep books, but I prefer the ones from Princeton Review. I feel they have a youthful conversational style that appeals to teenagers more than a dry “business only” approach like other books. I used the book “Cracking the SAT” by Princeton Review. It has a short, easy to understand explanation of the test, and includes four complete exams. All the answers have clear explanations.
In our homeschool, we did one section of one test at a time. Each section is 25 minutes long. We used a timer, so that it would simulate the real testing environment.I remember my dawdler was surprised that I was timing it. Our conversation was something like this:
Me: You have 25 minutes, I’m setting the timer.
Kevin: Why do you have to set the timer, I’ll know when to stop, and I don’t’ think that timing is important anyway, and I can’t possibly get it all done with the timer on, so I might as well not use a timer since I won’t finish anyway, but if you really wanted me to learn then you wouldn’t time it at all….
Me: You have 24 minutes, and the timer is still going.
For the record, my son has grown up to be a wonderful young man, he is grateful we homeschooled, and no serious damage was done to his self-esteem even though I timed his practice sections!
After doing a section, my children would correct it by themselves, and look over the explanation of each wrong answer. If they still had questions, then my husband would go over the explanation with them. Later I used “11 Practice Tests for the SAT and PSAT” by Princeton Review. It has a very short “how to” section, and LOTS of practice. The focus of this book is JUST sample tests. It gives clear concise answers for every problem. For students that need more practice with essay writing, a gentle way to start might be the book “501 Writing Prompt Questions” by Learning Express. It has simple essay topics that you can use regularly and a great section for parents about how to evaluate the essays.
Other kinds of test preparation can also increase scores and yield great dividends. Some students learn better without textbooks. For the reading and writing section, you can prepare such students using a “real books” approach. Reading lots of quality literature is the best preparation. Many of the test preparation companies are now offering classic literature that highlight SAT Vocabulary words. Kaplan has a series of books called “SAT Score-Raising Classics.” They are books such as Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, and Scarlet Letter that have the text on one side with vocabulary words in bold print. On the other side of the page each word in bold is defined in simple terms.
We used these books to read-aloud as part of our regular curriculum choices, and they doubled as SAT preparation. I would read, and my children would see the vocabulary definitions over my shoulder as we went along. Other auditory learners might prefer “Verbal Advantage” for vocabulary development. There are video tutorials available through Standard Deviants (www.standarddeviants.com) and The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com) that can provide a math review for visual learners.
Practice Might Make Perfect
You can enroll in a formal SAT class at home, using a variety of online courses through test preparation companies: The College Board, Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. That may be a good option for a student who is a visual or auditory learner, or a student willing to do anything as long as it’s on the computer. You can also take classes through a co-op (usually inexpensive) or a private course (usually pricey). Our local library offered a practice test twice a year, though Princeton Review. It was the most realistic practice we found, because it was an actual test in actual test situations, graded so that we had an objective score for each child. The SAT is such a LONG test, that we were thankful we could try it in a safe environment before they did it for real.
Studying for the SAT can benefit your homeschool, but it’s possible to go overboard. Studying for hours a day, for weeks on end may cause burn-out in your student. The last thing you want is to frustrate your teenager, so that they hate homeschooling. You want them to learn test taking skills, and you want to reinforce basic skills, but do it with a light touch. Know your student, and trust your own judgment.
Beginning in their freshman year, and using these techniques, my two sons were both able to get above 2300 on the SAT, including a perfect 800 on one section! By studying for the SAT, they were both able to raise their scores approximately 200 points per section – a huge gain. Even though “actual results may vary,” you can be confident that there is a real homeschool advantage in preparing for the SAT!
The ACT Alternative
There is another option. Instead of taking the SAT, you may want to have your child take the ACT test. It covers reading, writing, math and includes a science portion. The essay is optional. Incorrect scores do not count against the student, so there is no penalty for guessing.
How Do You Decide? Have your child take a sample test in SAT and in ACT at home. Statistically, 1/3 of students will do better on one or the other, and it’s not always the test you think is the best. Try both tests at home first, without pressure, and see which test makes your child look like a genius. Then decide which test to take for college admission.
You can get sample tests online, www.collegeboard.com and www.act.org. You can also go to the library and check out an SAT and ACT book, and take the test in those. I believe the librarian may actually make copies for you of the tests (I’ve been told they can do that, anyway.) Each test is about 3 hours long, and I know it’s a total pain to do it, but it’s SO worth it!
One of my clients told me that her daughter earned a full scholarship PLUS room and board, PLUS books and expenses, PLUS a $600 stipend to attend her first choice college. The mom said she was thankful for my help, so I asked her what was the most helpful thing I said. She credited my advice on sampling both tests. She said she would have NEVER guessed that her daughter would do better on the ACT, and it totally didn’t make sense to her. But she tried my advice and pre-tested her daughter, and had her take the ACT instead.
Even if your child doesn’t test well in general, most will do worse on one of the tests, so it can still save you money. You don’t know unless you try.
Once you have decided which test makes your child look like a genius, then study for that particular test. If the ACT is the right test for your child, Princeton Review has materials to help study for that test. Cracking the ACT is a good book for that test.
Don’t stick your head in the sand, ignoring test preparation. I know it’s a temptation to wait it out, and see if those tests will all simply go away. They won’t. Just spend a few minutes learning about the tests. Educate yourself. You’ll be glad you did – and you may save thousands of dollars. Peace of mind. Money. It’s worth the effort to learn about High School Testing.
More information on Tests
- The Joy of Tests: 16 Ways Standardized Testing Can Help Your Homeschool Thrive!
- High School Testing Audio CD
- Take the PSAT for Fun and Profit
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