(NOTE: This article addresses the student who, after all, will be studying for and taking the test herself. If you’re a parent, I suggest you print this out and read it together with your student. Then help her make a plan to implement.)
As a homeschooler, you have many strengths that help you test well. Homeschoolers are typically creative thinkers who are good at identifying and correcting mistakes. This is fortuitous because SAT and ACT questions are often designed with multiple solving pathways. In addition to knowing the concept, you can plug in answers, test numbers, estimate from the picture, or use process of elimination. To identify your weak areas, analyze the questions you missed. Work on them before you do the next timed test section.
However, homeschoolers may not have much experience with standardized tests. So, try to replicate the testing circumstance on each practice test. Get up early, take a shower, eat breakfast and drive to the library or some other quiet but public place (this simulates the potentially distracting environment of the real test where students may be coughing or fidgeting.) Keep track of your time on a watch, not on your phone. Also, start at least one practice test at 8 a.m.
One of the biggest obstacles for homeschoolers is finishing within time. But don’t worry. You can improve your time management with practice and the right approach. That’s what the rest of this article is about.
- Know how fast you should go.
NOTE: these guidelines assume you’re trying to finish all the questions. That may not be necessary, depending on your goal score (see strategy #4 below.) If you don’t need to finish all the questions, adjust your timing.
- Reading – 10-11 minutes on each single passage, 13 minutes on the double passage
- Writing – 11 minutes per passage
- Math – Average one minute per question on the beginning and middle questions, then two minutes per question on the hard ones towards the end. The questions go from easy to hard in the multiple-choice and then go from easy to hard again in the free response.
- English – 25 questions in 15 minutes
- Math – To average one minute per question overall, spend 30 seconds on the easy questions at the beginning, one minute on the medium questions in the middle, and one minute and 30 seconds on the hard questions at the end. (Don’t do the last 10 questions in order. Instead, guess randomly on all of them and then go back and do the easiest ones first.)
- Reading – 9 minutes per passage
- Science – 5 minutes per passage
- Practice the timing in sections.
Homeschoolers can get sucked into material and not realize how fast they are or aren’t going. Divide the tests into sections per the timing above (or your adjusted timing). For example, it’s hard to pace yourself finishing 75 ACT English questions in 45 minutes. Doing 25 questions in 15 minutes will give you a better sense of the correct pace.
- Evaluate questions that take you too long and look for a more efficient method.
Don’t automatically solve the whole problem. Since you don’t get any points for understanding, you only have to figure out which of the provided answers is most likely to be correct. Look at the answers first and use process of elimination, especially if the question says, “Which of the following,” or do 75% of the calculation and jump to the answers.
On algebra and geometry problems, draw a graph or picture and estimate the answer by eye. If the equation in the question is simple, test the answers. In each reading passage, do the line reference questions first and the main idea questions last. If you’re running out of time, you have a better chance to get a main idea question right with an educated guess. On ACT Science passages with graphs or tables, go right to the questions without reading any text. Look for the answer in the figures first. Questions that say “most likely” are designed for educated guesses.
NOTE: It’s hard to find shortcuts when you’re going quickly. So, do a section without the timer, and challenge yourself to find the fastest solution to each question. Try multiple approaches to see which is most efficient.
- Get help.
Homeschoolers are good at mobilizing resources. The world is full of people who are good at English, reading, math, and science: friends, neighbors, parents, and co-workers as well as teachers and tutors. Even people who are not testing experts can explain material and brainstorm about ways to improve. Also, try Googling “Saving Time on the SAT” or “ACT Time Management.”
- Figure out how many questions you need to finish.
Unless you need a perfect score, do not rush to finish all the questions. Instead, do fewer questions and take more time on each to avoid careless errors. For example, to get a 26 on ACT math, you need 45 questions right. Do just 50 to 55 out of the 60 questions, and be more accurate.
- Know the material.
Don’t take too long on a quadratic formula question because you have to think about what the quadratic formula is. Memorize it in advance. Homeschoolers are likely to encounter unfamiliar math and grammar concepts. Use your search engine. Khan Academy’s SAT videos include many ACT concepts. Keep a list of question types you’re missing and research.
- Keep track of your progress.
When I ask students about their independent practice, they often aren’t sure how they’re doing. Google “SAT / ACT score conversion chart” to learn how to convert the number of questions you’re getting right (your raw score) into a scaled SAT or ACT score. Make sure you’re getting an increasing number of questions right on your timed sections. If not, work on the previous steps.
Your flexible learning environment has prepared you to do well on your independent practice and the test. The most important thing is not to worry but instead to make a plan. Start early and dedicate a set amount of time each week. Maximize your strengths and work methodically through your weaknesses. Have confidence in your abilities and your plan. Good luck!
If you haven’t already signed up, please join us for a FREE webinar, “Test Prep for Homeschoolers“, on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018 at 11:00am PST.
More information and registration details can be found here: