“The SAT ® and ACT ® are just tests, no different from any other test. A key to success on any test is to study for that test. SAT ® and ACT ® prep courses serve the function of helping students to study effectively. They provide no new or special information…If you’re going to pay hundreds of dollars for SAT ® and ACT ® prep help, spend it on a teacher or tutor who will guide your study, evaluate your tests, and teach you what you need for direct improvement… you shouldn’t be paying for books, videos, on-line resources or practice tests that are readily available for nearly free.”
Why do SAT ® or ACT ® scores matter to a homeschool student?
Colleges use SAT® or ACT® exam scores as part of academically ranking their applicants. Transcript courses and grades are supported or negated by standardized test scores. If a strong transcript is not supported by strong standardized test scores (SAT®, ACT®, SAT® Subjects, AP®), the transcript is negated and may even be disregarded. This is particularly an issue for homeschool students or students from small schools whose transcripts lack comparative data.
How high do SAT ® or ACT ® scores need to be?
There is no thumbrule for this. It depends on the college programs and scholarships you are seeking. You should check individually with each one where you are considering applying. Higher scores will always increase your chances for any college or program. Lower scores decrease your chances or even make you ineligible for some schools and programs.
What high school courses are tested on the SAT ® or ACT ®?
To maximize your score on the SAT® or ACT®, the best start is to have a solid high school background in the three areas which are the sources for virtually all SAT® or ACT® questions:
- Reading Comprehension. Students who have been trained to analyze and understand a broad range (in time period and genre) of literary works will do better on the SAT® and ACT®. (Note: High school English and Social Studies courses typically focus more on response than comprehension, where what the student thinks (or should think) about the reading is emphasized over whether the student first understands the reading in its original context. SAT® and ACT® emphasize comprehension over reaction or opinion.)
- Analytical Essay Writing. Students who have more direct training and plenty of practice in efficiently writing concise analytical essays will do better on the SAT® and ACT®. (Note: High school writing is typically taught through evaluation rather than direct instruction. Students submit papers, get comments, and try to improve from the comments, but there is typically little or no direct writing instruction at the high school or college level.)
- Math Concepts. Students who have a thorough background in conceptual math through Algebra 2 will do better on the SAT® and ACT®. (Note: High school math is often taught as how to recognize problems and then solve them. However, the SAT® and ACT® often expect the student to first figure out how to assemble limited information into a recognizable problem — an inductive skill that is often under-prepared in high school math courses, particularly homeschool math programs.)
Should I take an SAT ® or ACT ® prep course? How much will it help my scores?
SAT® and ACT® Prep Courses do raise scores, but it is important to understand how this works before you invest. The SAT® and ACT® are just tests, no different from any other test. A key to success on any test is to study for that test. If having the right background (analytical reading comprehension, concise effective writing, math concepts through Algebra 2) is the best start toward maximizing SAT® and ACT® scores, the next essential step is to study effectively for those particular tests. SAT® and ACT® prep courses serve the function of helping students to study effectively. They provide no new or special information (don’t believe claims to uncover “secrets” of these tests), but they do help focus and guide study.
Diligent study will usually raise any student’s SAT® and ACT® scores around 10% (as compared to taking the tests without studying). Students who start with a weaker background in the academic areas will see higher relative increases (though not as much as if they had a better academic background to start). Students who study more will see higher increases (though after a reasonable study plan it takes disproportionately more study to gain any more points, and that disproportionate time is perhaps better spent on other classes and activities that are also important for college acceptance).
What should I look for in an SAT ® or ACT ® prep course?
Since the primary value of an SAT® and ACT® prep course is to encourage and guide effective and efficient study, what should you look for in a good course, and how much should you expect to pay? Since the materials for SAT® and ACT® study are readily available for free (or almost free), we recommend that you do not invest in a course that is mainly selling you study materials. Buy a good SAT® and ACT® prep book ($25 new), and use free resources like Khan Academy (who has a contract with the College Board to provide SAT® prep materials for free). If you’re going to pay hundreds of dollars for SAT® and ACT® prep help, we recommend you spend it on a teacher or tutor who will guide your study, evaluate your tests, and teach you what you need for direct improvement. How much you invest depends on how much teaching or tutoring you want, but you shouldn’t be paying for books, videos, on-line resources or practice tests that are readily available for nearly free.
How does TPS prepare students for the SAT ® and ACT ®?
TPS provides direct instruction throughout high school in analytical reading comprehension, concise effective writing, and math concepts. The following courses are particularly important:
- English 3 Foundations or Literature Survey (Honors)
- English 4/5 Advanced Composition or College Composition
- Algebra (Standard or Honors)
- Geometry (Standard or Honors)
- Algebra 2 (Standard or Honors)
TPS offers cost-effective time-efficient SAT ® and ACT ® Prep Courses taught by expert teachers who will guide your study, evaluate your tests, and teach you what you need for direct improvement:
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