Crossroads Area Home School Association

College Aptitude Tests



Testing Timeline

ACT/SAT Info Chart

Which Test to Take

Test Comparison

Do I Need to Test?

SAT Subject Tests

College Credit Tests

AP Subject Tests

37 Advanced Placement courses and exams help high school students prepare for college-level work and demonstrate knowledge and ability in various subject areas.

Tests are scored on a scale of 1-5. Most colleges require a score of 3 or higher. Before testing, consult with the college you are considering to see if they accept the test you are planning to take and what score they require for credit.

Registration and testing must be done through a local high school.

CLEP Tests

College-Level Examination Program allows students of any age to demonstrate proficiency and achievement in a variety of subjects. CLEP is an excellent way for home school students to verify their knowledge in an area while earning college credit.

To prepare for the various tests consult the CLEP Study Guide which can be found online or at a local bookstore. Be sure to check with the college you are planning to attend regarding the tests and scores they accept.

To register, contact ISU Testing Services; complete and submit the registration form and payment to the ISU testing center.

back to top

SAT Subject Tests

Formerly SAT II, Subject Test scores demonstrate students' achievement in a particular area based upon an objective evaluation, not an individual school's course content and grading scale. Though some highly competitive schools are beginning to require one or more tests from home school students, colleges that do not require them are able to learn more about any student's academic background.

Subject Tests are used by many colleges for admissions, but also to determine course selection or course placement; however, scores will not earn students any course credit.

All tests are not offered on every test date. Students should take a Subject Test when the material is fresh in their minds. This means even a Freshman who has completed a biology course is eligible for a Subject Test. Students interested in a foreign language test may require a few more years of study.

Registration is done online and preparation materials are available there as well.

Homeschoolers and the ACT & SAT Tests
answer sheet

Many home school high school students desire to further their education at the college level. In order to meet admission requirements or be eligible for scholarships, taking a college aptitude test may be required. Before you decide which tests your home school student should take, if any, we recommend studying the websites of any scholarship programs or schools in which your student is interested.

Aptitude tests such as the SAT and ACT provide an opportunity for homeschoolers to demonstrate their abilities on a level playing field with their public school counterparts. These standardized tests have become equalizers when it comes to college admissions; however, with the increase in test prep books and courses, some schools are seeing that incoming students who perform exceptionally well on a test can't really handle the college classroom. Home school students should be aware that other means of admitting students could be on the horizon.

For parents who took these tests when they were in high school, know that, like everything else, things have changed since then. Not only have the structure and content of the tests seen a change, but the pressure to perform well has greatly increased. Scores that garnered scholarships in our day may not even gain admission to some schools or specific programs today. We must assume the role of both teacher and counselor to meet the needs of this generation. Help your student discover which tests they should take, when they should take them, and how they should register.

back to top


Test preparation is expected these days. Many books are available at local bookstores ranging in price from $17-$35. The most useful books seem to be by the creators of the online classes listed below and McGraw Hill Publishing. Choosing which one is best depends on how the content and structure appeal to individual students' needs. While those featuring a CD-ROM or online experience can be beneficial for studying, re-creating the actual test setting through tangible paper/pencil practice tests is highly recommended.

Some homeschoolers have also recommended the following online prep programs:

back to top

A Testing Timeline

A few eager parents have their students begin college aptitude tests as early as eighth or ninth grade. This is not necessary! The PLAN, PSAT, ACT and SAT may be taken or retaken at various times, but it is important to know that some are more helpful or only "count" at specific times. The following is a suggested timeline for average students:

Sophomores: PLAN or PSAT in the Fall

  • Tenth grade students can take the PLAN, the "practice ACT", which is designed to measure what students know and what they are able to do with that knowledge. The interest inventory portion of this test may help some students recognize paths of study they should pursue. The PLAN is given to all students, not just those considered "college-bound."

  • Students may also take the PSAT as sophomores; however, their scores will be based on a scale compared to “college-bound juniors” because that is normally who takes the test (see Juniors: PSAT in the Fall, below). The PSAT is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation as a qualifying test for high school juniors. Students must list their year of graduation. Anyone not considered a junior will not “qualify” for the program that year despite their scores. The only benefit to taking the PSAT as a sophomore is for exposure to the test.

  • Both tests are only available through a high school. You must register with any high school that offers the tests and is willing to cooperate with you as homeschoolers. Locally, Calvary Baptist Academy and Cornerstone Christian Academy have been willing to include home school students. The tests are ONLY given once in the fall each year, usually October, but schools begin ordering in May and must have all their orders turned in by September. Begin checking in advance where you can take the test and double check in August. Most schools charge a fee to take the test.

Juniors: PSAT in the Fall

  • If you want to be considered for National Merit Scholarship or any special scholarships sponsored through that agency, you must take the PSAT in the fall of your Junior year (see details in the above paragraph regarding this test). You will receive results and your test booklet through the mail in December.

  • If any employers or organizations with whom students or their families have an affiliation have scholarships based on the PSAT/NMSQT, paperwork through that group is usually required by mid-February. Contact the Human Resources Department of your employer for more information specific to your company. Then you wait until the spring semester of your Senior year to learn if you have qualified for a scholarship. NMSC sends notifications or application packets to students by the end of March their Senior year.

Juniors: ACT or SAT in the Spring

  • Students may take the ACT/SAT at any time during high school; however, for students seeking college admission and consideration for scholarships, it would be most important to take the tests in the spring semester of their junior year.

  • Know which tests your first choice college expects. While some schools will take either the ACT or SAT, some only accept one or the other. Some schools also have special requirements for home school students including the ACT optional essay or one or more SAT Subject Area Tests.

  • Students register for the ACT and SAT national test dates online through the testing agencies. You may choose any test site that is available at any time. The chart below has registration details for each test. In Illinois, public high school students are given the ACT as part of the PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Examination) at a special test session at their high school. Unless you can find a cooperating school district, homeschool students should register for a national test date.

Seniors: Retakes or SAT Subject Area Tests in the Fall

  • Unless you score perfectly, you should plan to retake a test at least once. Some students see great improvement in their scores, while others score about the same. The significance of retakes is more on the part of the colleges-they like to see that students tried to improve. Some will even take the best section scores from multiple tests to create a combined composite score.

  • When preparing applications, pay attention to “early decision” and application deadlines which can be as early as November. You will have to have completed all the required tests by those dates. You can still retake to try to improve for scholarship consideration, but subject area tests and optional essays should be ready with your application.

back to top

A Comparison Chart of SAT & ACT Info

The chart below provides a quick comparison of some basic details about the two major tests. The links provided within the chart go directly to source pages by College Board or ACT, Inc..

When is it administered?
Seven times per year,
October through June
Six times per year,
September through June
Where is the test offered?
Both the SAT and ACT are given at various area college and high school facilities. Because tests are administered on Saturdays, the buildings are generally empty.
Students may take the test at ANY test site; they are not tied in any way to a particular school, nor do they register through any school.
All sites are not available on all test dates. Space for each site is limited; therefore an alternate date and location may be required when registering.
What is the test structure?
Ten-section exam: Three Critical Reading, three Math, three Writing, and one Experimental. The Experimental section is masked to look like a regular section.
Four-section exam: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. An Experimental section is added to tests on certain dates only, and is clearly identified.
What is the test content?
Math: basic geometry and Algebra II.
Science: none.
Reading: sentence completions, short and long critical reading passages, reading comprehension.
Writing: an essay, and questions testing grammar, usage, and word choice.
Math: up to trigonometry.
Science: charts, experiments.
Reading: four passages, one each of Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.
English: stresses grammar.
Is there a required essay?
Yes. The 25-minute essay is a required part of the Writing section given at the very beginning of the test. It accounts for about 30% of the Writing section score.
No. The optional 30-minute essay is given after the four multiple-choice tests. The score is computed as a combined score with the English section; however, it does not affect the subject-area scores or overall composite.
Is there a penalty for wrong answers?
Yes. 1/4 pt is lost for each incorrect response. No subtraction for omitted questions.
How is the test scored?
200-800 scale score per section, added together for a combined score. A 2400 is the highest possible combined score.
1-36 scale score for each subject, averaged for a composite score. A 36 is the highest possible composite score.
Are all scores sent to schools?
Yes. If a student requests a score report be sent to specific colleges, the report will include the scores the student received on every SAT-related test taken.
No. There is a "Score Choice" option. Students can choose which schools will receive their scores AND which scores the schools will see.
Best time to register?
Deadlines are six weeks before the test date. Register early to insure your first choice.
Deadlines are four weeks before the test date. Register early to insure your first choice.
What is the home school code needed for registration?
What is the cost?
$43.00 for SAT Reasoning Test.
$20.00 for Subject Registration Fee plus $8.00-$20.00 per test
$30.00 without optional essay.
$44.50 with optional essay.
Need more information?
Visit or their FAQ's.

back to top

Determining Which Test to Take

The reality is that neither the ACT or SAT is superior to the other. Some students take both just to see how their results compare. Two major factors should determine which test you take: what you need and how you test. A comparison of the two tests is provided below to help you evaluate which test is best suited for you.

Know what you need

The decision of which test to take may be determined simply by whatever admission criteria is laid out by your schools of choice. Some schools still only accept the ACT or SAT; some will take either. Some require the optional ACT essay, while some have special requirements specifically for home school students to take an SAT Subject Area Test. Begin no later than the fall of your junior year gathering requirements from the websites of all the schools you are considering.

Know how you test

You probably want to determine which test format is better suited for you.

  • The SAT reflects more of a student's ability and knowledge in how to take a test, while the ACT is more of an observation of what was learned in high school.
  • If you are a good student who enjoys studying and participating in class, then aim for the ACT. If you pick up on things fast and don't study too much for a test, then the SAT is for you.
  • Though the content of the SAT may sound more simple than the ACT, the SAT questions are often deliberately worded to be confusing to the test-taker.
  • Improving your ACT score can be accomplished by studying actual subject matter, but the best way to improve an SAT score is to better understand test-taking tricks.

Know the tests

Basic Test Comparison

  • The ACT is completely multiple-choice with four subject tests covering English, Math, Reading, and Science. The test is designed to evaluate your overall educational development and your ability to complete college-level work. The ACT assesses the knowledge you’ve acquired, meaning the test focuses on the subjects and skills actually taught in high school.

  • The SAT combines multiple-choice, student-created responses and an essay covering Writing, Critical Reading and Math. The test is designed to evaluate your general thinking and problem-solving abilities. The SAT tries to assess your natural ability by using deliberately confusing or tricky phrasing to determine your test-taking skills. In other words how do you perform under pressure and how well can you identify what the question is asking.

Content and Structure Comparison

  • The ACT begins with a 75-question English section containing grammar, usage, mechanics, paragraph structure, and rhetorical questions. The 60-minute math test focuses on beginning algebra skills through more advanced trigonometry. The reading section asks ten questions in each of the four passages related to prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. Finally the science section deals with evaluation and problem solving by applying knowledge and ability to interpret graphs, tables and illustrations.

  • The SAT begins with a 25-minute required essay followed by a ten-minute multiple-choice writing section. The SAT consists of nine others sections which vary in length from 20-25 minutes; however, the content order of test booklets differs during each section. In other words the person sitting next to you may be doing math or critical reading while you are doing writing. The math section of the SAT includes material equivalent to a tenth grade student's experience with Algebra II and geometry. The math section features ten questions which are not multiple-choice. These student-created responses are filled into a grid.

Scoring Comparison

  • Each section of the ACT has a scale score from 1-36. Those four sections are averaged to form the composite score. The optional 30-minute essay is scored according to a rubric which awards 1-6 points. It is scored by two readers for a possible score of 2-12. This score is combined with the English section score for a combined English/Writing Score which does not affect your overall composite score. The highest possible ACT score is a 36.

  • Each section of the SAT is worth 800 points on a scale basis. Each correct answer is awarded one "raw" point, questions left blank receive no point, and incorrect answers lose 1/4 point, except for math grid-ins. The total points for each section are scaled and added together to form the overall score. The essay is scored according to a rubric as described in the ACT section above, but is calculated with the Writing Score and reflected in the final composite score. The highest possible SAT score is a 2400.

Summary Comparisons

  • The major differences in the ACT would be the inclusion of a science reasoning section, questions on trigonometry, the fact that it is all multiple-choice, and has no penalty for guessing.

  • Major differences in the SAT would be the required essay, inclusion of more direct vocabulary-related questions, no trigonometry but 10 student-created math responses, penalty for wrong answers, and more confusing logic-type questions.

back to top

Do I Need to Test?

Whether or not to take any college aptitude tests differs with each individual student. Just because parents or siblings have taken a test, should not determine if you should test. A few factors to consider:

  • Do you have unmanageable test anxiety?
  • Are you planning to attend a major college or university?
  • Do the schools you are considering require a test score?
  • Do those schools have other optional placement tests?
  • Will you be applying for scholarships that require test scores?
  • Have you completed about thirty transferable hours at a community college?
Those who have no intention of ever attending a four-year college, probably do not need to take the ACT or SAT at all. Some community colleges accept students based upon placement tests available at the school; therefore, no requirement for an ACT or SAT score there either. Students who transfer from such a community college with an acceptable number of hours to a four-year school may not be required to provide an ACT or SAT score for admission. This is posted on university websites. For example, ISU requires 24 hours of transferable hours and the University of Illinois requires 30 transferable hours for admission without a standardized test score.

Though test scores may be unnecessary for admission to a school, scholarship eligibility can be a different story. Students who plan to apply for any type of financial assistance or scholarships through a school or other organization should begin learning about qualification requirements their Junior year. Many depend upon the PSAT/NMSQT, ACT with essay, or the SAT to select scholarship winners.

The best way to determine whether or not to take a test is to examine your own personal goals and contact the admissions departments of any schools you will consider attending. Do your homework and don't put it off! If you are going to test, you stand a much better chance of a good score while you are a high school student than later in life.

back to top

Source Sites

"ACT and the New SAT: Seven Major Differences"

"ACT vs. SAT for students with learning differences"

"ACT vs. SAT - which test should I take?"

"SAT vs. ACT: How do the tests compare?"