After homeschooling my nine children for more than 32 years, I am finally finished! One of my regrets is not acknowledging the importance of college entrance exams and/or CLEP and AP credit for those heading to college. For years I was convinced that:
- College tests are not very good indicators for how well a student will do in college (that opinion has not changed, by the way).
- Some students who are amazing students may not test well so a great GPA coupled with an impressive portfolio should be adequate for acceptance and scholarship purposed (wishful thinking, but not true for the most part).
Reality hit when several my children were not offered the scholarships that I felt like they deserved (yes, I am one of those mothers) because, whether I agree with this or not, the highest scholarships awarded to incoming college students are usually academic scholarships and those scholarships are almost always tied to test scores. (When discussing anything related to college policies and practices, one must use terms such as “generally,” “usually,” and “it depends” liberally.)
As embarrassed as I am to admit this, I was not aware that the PSAT test is tied to the National Merit Scholarships and, as a consequence, I never had my children take this test. The PSAT can be taken by students (whether homeschool, private school or public school students) as early as the 8th grade (depending on the school administering the tests). The only year the score counts toward the National Merit Scholarship is the student’s junior year. The test is given in October of each year (several test dates available) and it is a very affordable test. My advice would be to have your students begin taking this test as soon as they are allowed. In the county where Bryan College is located (Rhea County), the public high school will only allow sophomores to take this test early. In some counties the schools will allow younger students to sign up for the test. It is a good idea to find a location for test taking in September of each year because some schools run out of test booklets. Schools may require that your student has an official ID. If your student does not yet have a drivers license he/she can obtain an official ID from the DMV for a small charge. Passports are acceptable forms of ID as well. By the way, the difference between a National Merit semi-finalist and a finalist is not determined by scores, but rather by jumping through hoops after a student becomes a semi-finalist. The CLT (new college entrance exam, described further below) also has a CLT10 which is free for students to take on-line in April and details regarding scholarship opportunities for this exam are forthcoming. From the CLT website: The CLT10 is an alternative to the PSAT. In terms of academic rigor it is scaled back from the regular CLT (ie, no trigonometry, few level 5 questions). In addition, the CLT10 is free for all students. Although it is free, students who score above a 108 are still eligible for $2,500.00 in scholarship money through CLT’s partnership with the National Association of Scholars.
Research shows that many students’ scores increase each time they take a college entrance exam. Part of the reason for this is because the student becomes more relaxed with experience. Students who are intentional about preparing for (and practicing) these exams increase their scores as well. Some colleges super score, taking the highest score of specific sections from multiple test dates.
There are now 3 college entrance exams: the ACT, the SAT and the CLT (new test). Some areas of the country encourage the ACT while others encourage the SAT. Most colleges will accept either score for admission and scholarship purposes. The newest test, the CLT (Classic Learning Test) is now accepted at more than 70 Christian colleges. Bryan College offers the CLT on site with admission and scholarship amounts awarded according to scores earned. The CLT is taken on-line (no more bubbles), students can sign up without late fee penalties within a week of the test date, and the test scores are received the same day. A comparison article on the SAT vs the ACT is provided by College Prep Genius here. A comparison article of the 3 tests is provided at the CLT site is located here.
Preparing for the Tests! There are quite a few free options for improving test scores including videos (search Youtube) and practice tests from the official test sites of each test. The books we found most helpful in preparing for the ACT and the SAT are Princeton Review’s Cracking the (SAT) or (ACT). 36 University is a very affordable on-line tutorial for the ACT. It cost $15 per month with no contract. When registering if you use the code “Bryan” you will save $3 per month! College Prep Genius is a program used by many homeschool families and it is a prep site for the SAT and the new CLT as well. I was amazed at what I learned in five minutes standing at the College Prep Genius table at a college event listening to Jean Burk give tips on the college exams. Although 36 University and College Prep Genius tutor to a specific test most of what they teach applies to all three of the college exams. The CLT has a guide for their test as well.
When should students begin testing? That depends on the student and on the direction your student is headed. Many students begin taking practice tests as early as 8th or 9th grade. Because the tests are not inexpensive ($49+) most parents wait until the junior year to begin taking official tests. Some schools require a college exam test score for dual enrollment purposes. At Bryan College a student can begin dual enrolling after the sophomore year without a test score (transcript required showing 3.0 GPA or higher), unless they are taking a math class in which case the student would have to provide a college exam math score of ACT 22, SAT 540, or CLT 22.
Should you have your student’s test scores sent automatically to colleges? It depends. (Get use to this phrase because there are no die-hard, set in stone, rules and regulations that apply to anything college.) In order to encourage my children to be more relaxed and less stressed about taking a college entrance exam for the first time, I told them that no one would see their scores. The downside to this (at least with the ACT and SAT) is that there is a fee to have the scores sent in at a later date. These are considerations you need to weigh and the answer may vary depending on each student’s situation.
What about CLEP and AP test credits? Although this blog is primarily addressing college entrance exams there are a few facts about CLEP and AP that you will want to know, such as:
- Not all colleges accept CLEP and/or AP credits so check with colleges of interest
- To receive college credit one must pass the exam (pass or fail are the 2 options)
- Grades are not assigned to the credits earned by testing for credit so GPAs are not affected (although I did have a parent shared with me that one college assigns a “C” grade to CLEP credits and this would be a huge disadvantage to a student striving for a high GPA so, again, ask registrars these specific questions).
In order to prepare well for your student’s high school years do not make the same mistakes I made. Begin early with preparations for success with the college exams if your students are headed to college. Even if you are not sure if college is in your students’ future, it is better to be prepared even if they do not go to college than to not be prepared and discover, at the last minute, that college is the next step. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions I can attempt to answer: firstname.lastname@example.org
After 32 years of homeschooling I am now the Homeschool Specialist at Bryan College and I have put together a free resource to help parents plan for the high school years and it can be downloaded here.
Thank you, Pat, this is important information. We also had similar thoughts to you in regards to testing and found out how vital these tests are to scholarship money with our oldest son last year. Whether we like our children being judged by a test or not, that is the way of higher education and we definitely need to prepare our college bound kids to be ready to jump through these hoops if they hope to afford going to the college of their choice. Looking forward to being more prepared with our younger kids, thanks again for your valuable information!