Prepping for College Entrance Exams: A Guide for Homeschoolers

Many college-bound homeschoolers (and others) focus almost exclusively on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. But there is another important exam that homeschoolers should have on their radar: the PSAT. Taken in 11th grade, this test can be key to college scholarship awards and much more.

The PSAT (in 11th grade), SAT (12th grade) and ACT (12th grade) are three of the most important standardized tests college-bound high school students will take. Of these, you may be surprised to learn that the PSAT is perhaps the most important. Why? Because a qualifying score on the PSAT sets your students apart as a National Merit Semi-Finalist. And National Merit Semi-Finalists are eagerly recruited by colleges and universities. In fact, many schools will try to lure National Merit Scholars with offers of big scholarship money.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation sets a different qualifying level for each state, based on data about all test-takers in all states. For the class of 2016 — students who took the PSAT in the fall of 2013 — Florida’s number was 214 (out of 240), same as it was in 2012. By way of comparison, the number for Massachusetts was 223 and for Oklahoma it was 208. So it’s easier to qualify in some states than in others. (This tells you something about the quality of education from state to state, and readiness of students to take the PSAT, but that’s another post.)

There are many ways to prepare for this critical test, but by far the most painless is to tackle the SAT Question of the Day starting in 8th or 9th grade. Why? Well, for starters, the PSAT is in fact the Preliminary SAT. You may have noticed that the PSAT is scored out of 240. The SAT is scored out of 2400. Most students will score pretty much the same on the SAT as they did on the PSAT, i.e., a score of 218 on the PSAT will translate to a score of 2180 on the SAT. The tests are nearly identical, with the exception that there is some higher level math on the SAT. Working through the SAT question of the day is a good (and free!) way to get used to the material and questions that will appear on the PSAT.

But the best reason to tackle the SAT Question of the Day is because it’s just one question a day. And everyone has the time to work through one question a day. Some questions will be easy, with no effort required. Others will require students to review the solution (provided in detail on the answer page) to gain a better understanding of the material. Either way, it’s a short activity with a lot of impact. A student who begins prepping with the SAT Question of the Day in 9th grade will have completed 730 questions by test day in 11th grade. For some students, this will be all the prep they’ll need. I recommend having your student take the PSAT in 10th grade so you can get an idea of what areas may need additional study. The test results include detailed information about the questions missed, making it easy to create a personalized study guide.

Free Resources:
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
SAT Question of the Day
ACT Question of the Day
Khan Academy Official SAT

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