Two competing testing companies are vying for your students: ACT and SAT (College Board).
ACT has preparatory tests for 9th and 10th grades: EXPLORE and PLAN. (These are in the process of being phased out and the ASPIRE series is being introduced, but as long as you can get the PLAN, go with it since the ASPIRE will be quite different).
SAT has a preparatory test, too: PSAT. Some students take this in 10th and 11th. Tenth grade is for practice and 11th to try to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.
In my experience with students—both my own and clients I’ve tutored--, the PSAT is a significantly more difficult test than the PLAN. But that makes sense since it’s written for 11th graders. So I recommend that students use the PLAN for PSEO applications. If, however, your student is scoring in the top 5% on the PLAN, then consider having her practice for and take the PSAT in 11th grade to try to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship ($2500 is awarded to the top 1% of testers in each state).
SAT or ACT? And When?
The possibilities of which tests to take and when to take them are endless, but this is what I do with my kids: they take the EXPLORE in 8th, the PLAN in 9th and 10th (Yep, twice. The first is practice for the 10th grade test which will be used for PSEO applications), then the ACT with writing in the spring of 11th grade.
If I’m really not sure how a student will do on the ACT, then I have her take it in January or February so I have the results in time to plan our college visits during the spring of 11th grade. The reasoning behind this is if she scores a 30+ on the ACT (Never happened at my house!), then I know we will be looking at different colleges than if she scores in the mid-20s. However, if I have an idea where her score will land on the ACT (the PLAN gives the forecasted ACT score, and it is pretty accurate), then taking it in March or April is fine.
Then I have my kids take it one more time in November of their senior year because the score always goes up (okay, for one of my kids it didn't)--sometimes by 2 or 3 points! That is worth several thousand dollars in scholarship money at some schools once the score is over the scholarship threshold. I do not have them take the writing part on that second test because there is no reason for more "torture."
All colleges now accept both the ACT and SAT scores. Both tests will take up half of a Saturday in the life of your teen and about $50. So to determine which test is best, have your student take a practice test for each and go with the higher score.
ACT Practice test
SAT Practice test
Tutoring for the Tests
Studying for the ACT tests (EXPLORE, PLAN, and the ACT) and SAT (PSAT) has proven to be helpful for some students while other students do well without the extra tutoring. If you are interested in tutoring for your student, you can contact me for more information.
Many resources are available for ACT and SAT test preparation self-study, which works great if your student can motivate herself to get through them.
eKnowledge Corp: SAT / ACT PowerPrep. If you are a member of HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense), you can get the $250 program for $17.55. It is worth joining HSLDA just for that discount!
Khan Academy: Free online prep for the SAT. Type “SAT Prep” in the search bar.
I believe in doing everything we can as parents to pave the road to success for our students, even if we do not fully know where that road might lead them.