This post is sponsored by College Prep Science. Copyright 2020 by Greg Landry.
I started helping homeschooled students with ACT prep over 14 years ago as I helped our children and then students from other families in classes. Now, more than ever, it makes sense to laser focus on the ACT.
Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are critically important for two reasons - they are an important part of the college admission decision and academic scholarships are often based directly on this score (higher score = more scholarship money). This score may make the difference in a college acceptance decision or in thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships.
First, a little background. Most colleges and universities require that students take either the ACT or SAT and that the score is reported to them as part of a student's application process. All colleges and universities will accept either test for the application process. Some students take and report both. Since 2012, more students take the ACT than the SAT and that gap widens every year. The SAT is rapidly losing market share.
While a majority of students used to prepare for and take both tests, more and more students are now focusing all of their preparation on the ACT and only taking the ACT. The conventional wisdom used to be that you should prep for, and take, both tests. The rationale was that because of the differences in the tests you may score significantly better on one than on the other. Actually, that rarely happens (although my anecdotal experience is that homeschooled students tend to perform better on the ACT). The scores for the vast majority of students who take both tests are very similar. Some would suggest that students should take the PSAT because of the chance of becoming a national merit scholar. But the chances of that happening are very, very small and in my opinion not worth the potential downside except in rare situations.
Several reasons I believe students should laser focus (and become an expert) on taking the ACT!
1. Taking only the ACT eliminates the test-taking confusion that many students experience because of the differences in strategy and structure between the ACT and the SAT. A little confusion while taking these tests can negatively affect college admissions and scholarship money - sometimes significantly.
2. Considering homeschooled students I've worked with who have taken both tests, the majority preferred taking, and performed better on the ACT.
3. All math questions on the ACT are multiple-choice - a decided advantage for students who know how to exploit this factor - as I teach students to do in my boot camp. Also, unlike the SAT, the ACT allows the use of a calculator for the entire math test.
4. In early 2019, College Board (the publisher of the SAT) announced that in 2020 it will begin including an "adversity index" with the SAT scores it submits to colleges in 2020. This index score will be an estimate of how much adversity a student has faced in their life as estimated by the College Board. This step has been roundly criticized in academic and test prep circles as unfair to students who don't fit into the "adversity index" - for all practical purposes it acts to effectively lower the SAT score of all other students. Another reason to ditch the SAT.
5. The "science reasoning" section of the ACT (about 25 percent of the test) can be very intimidating. This section has little to do with science knowledge and is more about reading comprehension, critical thinking, and reasoning. For students planning to be science majors in college, doing well on the "science reasoning" section of the ACT is especially important and can give them a decided advantage. It's also the section that has the largest potential for improvement with appropriate preparation. It is typically composed of several science-related reading passages (often with some type of graphical data) with several questions related to each passage and data. It can be conquered and used toward a student's advantage with appropriate preparation!
6. If a student focuses solely on the ACT they can become an expert on taking that test. This is much more difficult to do when preparing for both ACT and SAT as you don't have as much time to focus on ACT. Rather than spending time preparing for the SAT and the ACT, spend all that time totally focused on the ACT, likely yielding a better ACT score.
Ideally, a student should begin preparing for and taking the ACT in the 9th grade and take it two to three times per school year through 11th grade or early 12th grade. A student can take the ACT up to 12 times. The fee to take the ACT is $68 (writing test included) and the experience gained in taking it multiple times may make the difference in a college acceptance decision or in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. The goal early on is to gain valuable experience of taking the test and to continue to improve.
Then, submit one (the best) of those 11th / 12th-grade scores to colleges to which you're applying. 99+% of colleges only require that you submit one of your scores. A few colleges require that you submit all of your ACT or SAT scores but state that they use your best score for admission consideration. Also, admissions personnel that I've had contact with view taking the test multiple times as a sign of a student's determination and perseverance - qualities they want to see in a student.
The experience of taking the ACT multiple times over several years is so important! Imagine the difference between students who take the ACT for the first time in 11th or 12th grade vs. students who are thoroughly familiar with the test when taken in 11th or 12th grade because they've prepared for it for years and have taken it several times! It's huge!
If your student is beyond 9th grade and hasn't started preparing for and taking the ACT yet, no worries - they can get started now and still make significant progress.
Homeschool dad, scientist, and former college professor, Greg Landry, offers live, online homeschool science classes, Homeschool ACT Prep Bootcamp the Homeschool Mom’s Science Podcast, in-person two-day science lab intensives nationwide, freebies for homeschool moms, and homeschool print publications that students can be a part of.