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How to Navigate the Jungle of Standardized Testing

  • Jessica Parnell HomeschoolingHelp.com
  • 2014 4 Jun
How to Navigate the Jungle of Standardized Testing

Preparing for the SAT’s just isn’t what it used to be when we were kids. It’s truly a jungle out there. Nowadays, there are many forms of standardized tests – all technically used to level the playing field as far as eligibility for college and scholarships.

But as usual, when technology AND choices expand with leaps and bounds, confusion is soon to follow. How do homeschooled teens know when, where, how, and what kind of test they need to take?

Standardized Tests and College Admissions

In most cases, admissions officers utilize standardized test scores as only one of many factors in their decision making process. What officers most want to see is that test scores correlate with a student’s GPA. In fact, a recent report from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors cites test scores as the 3rd most important factor in the admissions process, “behind grades in college prep courses and the quality of the student’s high school curriculum.” The importance of a student’s overall GPA, application essay, and class rank fall behind standardized testing.

So, while standardized test scores are not the #1 deciding factor for college admissions, they are still pretty important in the admissions game. Knowing when and how to take them can be a big benefit.

ACT Versus SAT – Which Way to Go?

Which one should you choose? If you opt to take both tests just for safety’s sake, you may be throwing away time and resources, as most colleges do not have a preference. The key is to determine which test is best suited to your skill set and personality type – this is actually the reason that two different tests exist.

  • Students who just naturally seem adept at test-taking may thrive with the SAT. According to Jessica Tomer, editor of Private Schools and Colleges Magazine, “The SAT is an analytical and reasoning test, and while you’ll definitely need to know how to use equations to survive the math section, you really can’t study well for the SAT. Memorizing your textbooks won’t help.”
  • If memorization is your thing, then ACT may be the test for you. “If you’re a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of student who studies like crazy, you could have an advantage when taking the ACT because it tests your knowledge,” said Tomer.

Pre-Testing – Yes or No?

Official practice tests like the PSAT (SAT) and PLAN (ACT) can help you gauge your performance when it’s time for the real deal. The results aren’t shared with colleges so you have nothing to lose by taking these tests. Practicing with timed tests is a great option, if you have the time and monetary resources. And the PSAT can be important as it’s the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test Tool. Don’t delay – these tests are typically taken in the sophomore or early junior year of high school.

You can often prepare on your own by buying books of complete past tests, and taking them to discover your weaknesses. While you can’t really “study” for the SAT, you can improve your vocabulary with online flashcard tools or programs, and lots of reading.

SAT and ACT Facts


  • Tests reasoning, analytical, and problem solving skills
  • Takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • Maximum Scores – 800 for Critical Reading and 800 for Math
  • Cost – about $50


  • Tests knowledge of curriculum, comprehension, and analytical skills
  • Takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes with the optional Writing section (take!)
  • Maximum Score – 36
  • Cost – about $35

When to Take?

The SAT website has produced a comprehensive high school SAT planning system to get you organized and prepared for when and what to take. The site recommends that the SAT is taken in the spring of the junior year, and again in the fall of the senior year if you wish to attempt to improve your scoring.

It’s never too early to start your standardized test planning and college admissions strategy. Remember, AP or College Prep coursework, as well as quality accomplishments also need to be a part of your focus.

Jessica Parnell is passionate about homeschooling.  A wife, mother and former public high school teacher, Jessica has transferred this passion into her career as Principal of Bridgeway Homeschool Academy. Her passion grows out of a deep desire to see every child reach their God given potential and purpose through faith-based, customized, and flexible homeschooling.  With over 25 years of experience helping over 24,000 families to homeschool their way, Jessica is dedicated to helping families understand the freedom that comes with homeschooling and to empowering parents, a child's first teacher, to feel confident in taking control of their child's education. Learn more at Jessica’s blog.

Publication date: June 4, 2014

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