Preparing for the ACT/SAT


Tests!! Due to different philosophies, some parents rely heavily on these in their homeschooling efforts, whereas others dislike assessing their children’s progress in this manner. Regardless of their personal opinions, however, there comes a time when some parents and students have no choice but to face the challenge of the ultimate academic test–the college entrance examination. If your young adult has been called by God to attend college, there is practically no avoiding the ACT or SAT. Most colleges require one or the other.

Contemplating the impact that this single test can have on a high schooler’s future often causes parents and students alike to feel overwhelmed and downright panicked. That is a normal reaction but not one that needs to persist for long! God is our source of peace and sustaining grace. Having had four high schoolers successfully travel through this process, I would like to share some suggestions that I’ve gleaned from books and personal experience that helped our family during this stage of their education.

First, you must realize that a student can and should study for this important test. In addition to prayer, one of the most effective ways to combat any fears and uneasiness associated with the ACT/SAT is to be as prepared as is reasonably possible. I believe that this task can be accomplished by following a few steps in a very intentional course of action:

  1. Plan ahead: Choose a test date so that your student will have two to three months beforehand in which to prepare. Spreading the study period over a lengthy span of time lessens the daily impact so that the normal high school course work can progress as usual. It also eliminates any need for last–minute cramming which can be very counter–productive and anxiety producing!

  2. Choose the right prep course for your student: There is no dearth of available materials! Much help is offered on–line (www.actstudent.org, sat.collegeboard.org) and in hardcopy, so you can choose either type of resource or both. My experience is exclusively with hardcopy, and I strongly recommend that this format be used for at least a portion of the study. Whether you use printable tests available on–line or purchase prep books, it is important that your student can practice with tests that are exactly like the real exam, with the same number of questions and taken exactly the same way–with paper and pencil! Because the prep books are what I am accustomed to using, these form the basis of my suggested course of study. The two books that I specifically recommend are The Real ACT Prep guide, 3rd edition published by Peterson’s and The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition published by The College Board and Educational Testing Service. Both of these include multiple practice tests and were written by the people who design the actual ACT and SAT respectively.

  3. Study and practice: At the outset of the preparation, choose one test to evaluate your student’s stronger and weaker areas of performance so as to eliminate any unnecessary study time. This may be done in one sitting or over several days. Next, design a plan that will help him work slowly and steadily through the book, as needed. As he progresses, make good use of the practice tests! These may each be divided into individual sections concentrating on those subjects that need the most work. Be sure to time each test so that your student can learn to pace his work well.

  4. Administer one complete test: As the test date approaches, set aside a time to have your student take one entire test, in one sitting, simulating the real testing experience. This requires a quiet atmosphere, and if possible, you can do this during the corresponding time of day the actual test will be given (i.e starting rather early in the morning!). The Saturday before is a good choice, for then you may allow your student a week of well–deserved rest!

In conclusion, I would like to offer an additional note of encouragement. Be sensitive throughout this preparation time as to whether your student is handling the schedule well. You want him to be prepared, not burned out! An adequate number of days, proper materials, and focused study at an appropriate pace can help your high schooler do his very best on the exam.

Stephanie Estabrooks is a homeschooling mom of five sons, ages 29 to 13 years.  By God’s grace all of her children are exclusively homeschooled (grades 1–12) with the four oldest either currently enrolled at or graduates of a four–year college.  The youngest is presently in the eighth grade.  Stephanie lives with her husband, Bates, and four of her sons near Knoxville, Tennessee, where she enjoys birdwatching and various ministry opportunities. 

Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Homeschool Minute, September 28, 2011.

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