The Alphabet Soup of Standardized Tests
This post is about the standardized tests most often taken by college-bound teens: SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, CLEP, AP, PSAT. I write merely to inform, not to endorse. And please remember that these tests do NOT measure creativity, innovation, work ethic, or love of learning.
We can distinguish between admission tests, placement tests, and scholarship tests.
Admission tests—SAT and ACT— are those required as part of a college application. Students are advised to take admission tests in the spring semester of their junior year. Most 4-year colleges require either the SAT or the ACT with Writing from ALL of their applicants. The tests are structured and scored differently, so you might want to research each exam before deciding which one is best suited to you. Although most colleges consider standardized test scores as one small piece of a college application, those scores have a greater significance when they are the only objective measure of learning that colleges see. There are increasing numbers of colleges that are making these tests optional for their traditionally schooled applicants, but many of those colleges still want to see test scores from homeschooled students. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing maintains a list of test optional schools, but check individual schools’ websites for the most reliable information about current testing requirements for homeschooled applicants.
Placement tests—AP and CLEP–are not required for admission. Instead, they indicate mastery of subject content. High scores on AP exams can potentially be used to earn college credit or place above the introductory level of college courses. The decision about whether to grant credit, and how much credit to grant, is determined by each individual college. Four-year colleges generally do not grant credit for high CLEP scores, but some 2-year colleges might grant CLEP credit. For either exam, check with your intended college for specific policies on how test scores are used for placement or credit.
Admission/placement tests—SAT Subject Tests are sometimes required for admission to 4-yr colleges and/or sometimes used for placement (especially foreign language). The vast majority of colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests for admission, but many colleges suggest them for their homeschooled applicants. Some schools that require SAT Subject Tests are moving toward equating AP scores with SAT Subject Test scores so that students who sit for an AP do not need to sit for the SAT Subject Test as well. Again, since each school sets its own policy, check with the school!
Scholarship test—PSAT, Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). Students who want to be considered for National Merit Scholarships take this exam in October of their junior year. If you’re planning to take the test, contact a local high school early in September to register. Some homeschoolers take the PSAT as sophomores so that they can see what it feels like to take a standardized test in a brick and mortar school setting. ONLY junior year scores are considered for the National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT is not required for college admission and is only administered once each year.