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A Basic Guide to Standardized Testing Part 2

  • Lynn Scully Contributing Writer
  • Published Nov 30, 2006
A Basic Guide to Standardized Testing Part 2

A common error when interpreting score reports is to take the scores as an absolute. For instance, a 30% score on math should indicate to the parent an area where work is needed, not that the child has low math aptitude. Rather than avoid the low performance areas, increase instruction in those areas with the goal of raising knowledge and ability. Difficult does not mean impossible.

Allow for more frequent testing if possible-- working toward a measurable goal, that is, a test score, provides the feedback needed to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts. Be flexible and expect curriculum changes. Allow the child sufficient time between tests to master the material, and do practice tests to build testing skills.

For the following tests except the ACT, registration information for homeschooling families is provided at

The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, is just that. Since the PSAT scores are not sent to colleges, the PSAT provides an opportunity to become familiar with the SAT format (it is slightly shorter and does not include the 25-minute essay) without the concern that colleges will see the scores. More important, the corrected answer sheet and test booklet are returned to the student (through the guidance office of the school administering the test), allowing for a more complete understanding of problem areas. The PSAT is given once a year in October and is the only high school level test that requires registration through a local guidance office. Contact your nearest high school in early September to register and pay for the test. Take the PSAT at least twice--as early as the completion of Algebra I.

The Scholastic Assessment Test, better known as the SAT, is a reasoning test, which means it combines logic and reasoning skills along with the knowledge gained in a classical education: good reading comprehension and vocabulary recognition; grammar and editing skills along with the ability to formulate a persuasive essay; and complete algebra and geometry knowledge. The SAT may be taken at any age (it is the cornerstone of the Johns Hopkins Talent Search program for junior high students) but is usually challenging for students below age 14.

The American College Test, or ACT, is a four-section test: grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension, math, and science. There is an optional essay. The ACT is similar to the SAT in that it is a nationally administered standardized test accepted by college admissions officials as part of a complete college application. The science section is not based on previously learned science information; it is the "reasoning" section in that it combines critical reading skills and graph interpretation skills to determine answers. The best way to prepare for the science section is to increase reading comprehension and become familiar with the test format.

The math section focuses more on knowledge than on reasoning skills. No formulas are provided, and only basic function calculators are permitted, as opposed to the SAT, which provides many basic formulas and allows advanced function calculators.

Information for this test is available at

SAT Subject Tests
The SAT Subject Tests are not logic based (an aspect of tests that people consider "tricky"). Multiple one-hour subject tests are available in many high school level topics such as math, sciences, languages, and more. Up to three subject tests may be taken on the same day. The appropriate subject test should be taken when study in a subject is complete, regardless of age.

Many colleges require at least one SAT Subject Test score as part of the application. Subject tests are especially valuable for a homeschooled student to exhibit subject matter mastery to a college's admission board or to provide an objective "final exam" for personal use.

AP Tests
An advanced placement, or AP, test may provide proof of proficiency in a subject beyond that associated with a standard high school education. AP test scores may be accepted by a college to provide credit for a college-level course or allow a student to skip beginning level classes. Since not all colleges provide credit for high AP test scores, it is best to check with the college your student plans to attend if he is taking the test only to gain college credit. For parents looking to challenge a student, AP test preparation is a great advanced education program.

Both the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests and the Dantes
Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) are designed to provide college credit for "information mastered" in order to speed up the college process, reduce college education costs, or to quickly move a student into advanced courses. Read more at and

A word of caution: a CLEP may be used to demonstrate advanced proficiency, but don't shortcut the college education drastically. These tests are best saved for adults. Age-appropriate college students are enriched by the college experience and, as you already know, there is so much more to an education than just facts.


Lynn Scully has been tutoring students and guiding them through their education and college admissions process for the past 18 years. She is the author of the get IT (Independent Tutorial) SAT program. Questions for Lynn? Email her at or visit her website at for more information.

Copyright 2006. Originally appeared in Fall 2006. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe.