Homeschooling: What Every Parent Should Know about the NEW SAT & ACT, Part 2

Today is part 2 of Lauren Gaggioli's post about the new SAT and ACT.  If you missed the first part, you can find it here.

The Three Elephants In The Room

Common Core

First of all, I want to dispel the Common Core myth right now. While, yes, many of the questions and scoring elements are interdisciplinary (i.e. Common Core-ish) in nature, a math problem is a math problem, punctuation rules are clear, and strong readers will have an advantage no matter when or how they learned to read.

When it comes to any standardized test, nothing can replace a firm academic foundation. If students have learned well, they will be well-ahead of their under-prepared peers when it comes time to test.

Sub-Par Prep Materials

While ACT’s official prep materials leave a lot to be desired and College Board’s materials for the new SAT are completely untested (literally), you can offset this fact by making sure that you are getting your information from someone who studies the craft of test prep.

For instance, I still take the ACT once or twice a year and build the new strategies I develop based on those experiences into my prep courses.

I also won’t teach a test I haven’t taken because I can’t ensure that my strategies will work in the actual testing room. Since the new SAT hasn’t been given yet, I won’t be teaching it until I’ve taken the test and proven that my strategies will work.

Test Optional Colleges

Before you opt out of testing altogether, take a moment to consider what you may be giving up by doing so.

There are millions of dollars available for free via merit-based aid and private scholarships.

What’s the key to the free money vault?

In most cases, your test score (either the ACT or SAT) and your G.P.A.

Make sure you’re 100% comfortable with giving up that opportunity before you walk away from testing entirely.

When Should You Test?

Before we get into specifics, I want to make sure I’m really clear that this is a very personal decision. Each family is unique. Every student has different strengths, weaknesses, and college goals.

My rule of thumb in any year, not just a year of change, is that students should have a score that they are proud of by June of their junior year.

This gives students the summer before senior year to create a college list that is realistic and can include merit aid and scholarship considerations as a part of the discussion while relying on actual data.

Students without scores may have inflated expectations of themselves when it comes to testing. That can lead to disappointment, embarrassment, and stress during the application period when it’s important that students can be upbeat about the qualities they will bring to a campus.

It’s hard to make that work well if you feel like Eeyore because of your ACT or SAT score.

Which Test Should You Take?

In the 2015-2016 school year, I’m advising all juniors to take the ACT and avoid the new SAT.


Next summer, I will have much more information to share about the new SAT that is based in fact and not reliant upon the marketing material that College Board is pumping out.

While there are challenges with the ACT, working with someone who knows about the issues with the exam will ensure that your student can be prepared to do well on this improved test.

At this point, the ACT is the best option for students in the Class of 2017.

What’s best for the younger classes remains to be seen, but I promise to continue to share what I learn on my site:

If you’d like to keep in touch, come on over and join my email list. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on everything in the testing world.

Thanks, Lauren!  It's nice to know that you continue to take the test so you can help your students.

If you have any questions or comments for Lauren, you can leave them below.


Homeschooling: What Every Parent Should Know about the NEW SAT & ACT

 Today, Lauren Gaggioli of Higher Scores Test Prep is my guest writer.  Lauren addresses changes in the ACT and SAT and advises on what you should do about them and even how they relate to Common Core.  This is a 2 part series, so be sure to sign up to receive blog posts or bookmark this site.

Here's Lauren:

Whenever change arises, loud and polarized opinions dominate the news cycle. Nowhere is this less constructive or more harmful than when change affects our education system.

Such upheaval clouds the facts and makes it nearly impossible to make an informed decision about the most important of decisions - how to move forward with a student’s education.

Homeschool families face this challenge far more frequently than their traditionally schooled peers, because a homeschool family makes decisions that affect day-to-day learning in addition to those regarding iconic educational experiences like the college admissions exams.

Let’s be honest - it’s crazy out there on both fronts right now. But my goal with this article is to share the facts about the new SAT and new ACT and explain how those facts may impact your homeschooled college-bound student.

Just The Facts Please!


In 2012, College Board - the maker of the SAT - named David Coleman its president. Coleman is widely regarded as the architect of Common Core.

College Board announced this change in leadership months after losing its foothold among testers in 2011. ACT became the more popular test that year.

In 2012, in addition to bringing on a new president, College Board announced that it would be revamping its 2400 SAT only 7 years after it replaced the original 1600 exam.

The new 1600 SAT is slated to be a completely overhauled exam and a more fair assessment of a student’s ability that, College Board claims, will not favor students whose families can afford preparation.

In an effort to ensure equity, College Board partnered with Khan Academy to provide free test prep to all students.

This test will make its maiden voyage in March 2016.


In Spring 2013 - after years of growth with little change to its exam - ACT, Inc. announced that it would engage in what it stated was “continual improvement without the need for radical change.”

Over the next 2 years, the company updated its exam slowly by integrating a new reading measure (dual passages), increasing the level of difficulty of its math section, changing the distribution of its science section, and - most recently - by crafting a new writing test that is more akin to an AP-level writing assignment than the opinion piece of the past.

There are also new subscores that correlate with Common Core measures, such as the STEM score and the English Language Arts score.
While ACT has made these continual improvements, it had not updated the book that it published that is available for purchase.

Why Are Those Facts Important?

As a test prep provider, I’ve always known that these tests can be a bit sneaky. That’s how I help my students. We set out together to vanquish our common enemy. It makes an otherwise boring exercise at least mildly entertaining.

Here’s the problem: when examining the facts, it becomes really apparent that both companies are sniping at one another and fighting for market share.

David Coleman gave College Board bonus points among the proponents of Common Core. Claiming that the changes to its test were merely “continual improvement” made ACT attractive to those who dislike change - even though the changes have, in reality, been pretty dramatic.

While each company is trying to best the other one by aggressively promoting its exam as the pinnacle of college admissions test greatness, students and families are left with sub-par prep materials, unclear information, and lots of stress from not knowing what to do.

It’s one thing when the test has some challenging elements. It’s another when the marketing is so slick that families can’t make a decision.

Next week, Lauren will address: the Three Elephants in the Room, What test Should you take, and When should you take the test?

While you are waiting, you can see what I had to say about the new SAT when it was first announced: What to do About the New SAT(short version)  (long version)

About Laren Gaggioli:
Lauren is the founder of Higher Scores Test Prep and also the host of The College Checklist podcast. On the podcast, she interviews college counselors and other college admissions professionals, bringing timely, relevant information to today’s college bound families. You can subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes or Stitcher Radio.

Lauren continues to tutor students in Southern California through her private tutoring company Gold Star Test Prep. She lives in Carlsbad, CA with her husband Mike and their two energetic “babies” – Giada the Chihuahua and Captain Malcolm Reynolds their mischievous cat. When she’s not tutoring, she can be found reading, puttering in her garden, or whipping up a new recipe in her teeny-tiny kitchen.


Recently, a friend whose first student left for college asked me:

I'm really struggling with throwing away workbooks/practice books that the kids have completed through the years. The ones I'm thinking of mainly right now are the Teaching Textbooks workbooks the boys have done for high school. Do I really just throw them away? I've recorded their grades for high school. They're on the computer disks anyway. I'm such a pack rat; I'm afraid I'm forgetting something I might need them for!

 I knew what she was really asking:

Do I have to keep every paper my child ever generated in case somebody ‘important’ wants to see it?

 My response to her:

"Just throw them away. I give you permission.  I kept them for years, too, but never needed them again. Be free!"
However, before you get too hasty, consider if you do want to keep any work. 

What?  What would I want to keep?

Usually, what I want to keep (or am glad I kept) are writing assignments or artwork.  I don’t really care about the daily math or spelling assignments.

For years, I did keep everything.  You know, in case ‘somebody important’ needed to see it to prove my homeschooling.  I would box up the work and label it with the year and grade.  Some of these boxes moved with us twice.

I finally pulled the boxes out of the attic a couple years ago.  It was fun to see what my students did in first or second grade.  I even found this book my girls wrote at an early age.

But, after going through the whole box, most of it got tossed in the trash.

My recommendation for what to keep through the years:

Samples of writing
Any art you especially like
Any other work that is special to you for whatever reason
Projects (probably best to photograph them)

How you keep it is up to you.  You can keep the actual hard copy or take a photo.
With the technology constantly changing however, a hard copy might be better.

Homeschooling can generate a lot of paper, so hopefully this will let you determine what you can keep and what you can toss. 

What about you?  Do you keep everything?  Toss everything and wish you hadn’t?

Homeschooling: The Last Year Is the Hardest

Homeschooling has its rewards, but it can be hard.

Some years are harder than others.

If this is your first year, you may think this one is the hardest because you are figuring out how to schedule your day and make lesson plans; figuring out how to homeschool.

If you are homeschooling with an infant or toddler, you may think this adjustment is your hardest year.  While that scenario does take some juggling, it's not impossible and not your hardest year.

Maybe your student just started high school and you feel unqualified to teach high school, so surely, this must be your hardest year.

After 24 years of homeschooling, I have discovered that the hardest year of homeschooling is the last year.

How can that be, you wonder? 

Let me tell you why the other scenarios posed above, while they may be hard, are not the hardest.

The first year of homeschooling is accompanied by excitement and maybe a little nervousness.  It is fun to choose curriculum and make plans and schedules.  Some days may be difficult, but you get to see your child learn many new things and it is wonderful.

I always (yes always), for the first 12 years of homeschooling had an infant/toddler and often was pregnant, too.  So yes, I know that can be hard, but you get used to it and plan your schedule to make it work.  It is just part of being a family.

I was never afraid of teaching high school.  Yes, there were hard days when maybe my student didn't understand something and I didn't either, but we figured it out or found outside help.  Just having teenagers in the house can be hard sometimes, but it is not the hardest year of homeschooling.

What makes the last year the hardest?

I am getting the full picture of what life will be like soon.  My youngest is rarely home since all her classes are dual credit at the community college this year.

Maybe this is a bit of early 'empty nest syndrome', but I find myself a bit aimless.  After years of lesson planning and schedule making, I find that I am not in the habit of making a schedule for one - me.  I'm not sure I know how to do this.

So, if you have missed the regularity of my posts, this is why.  It's a hard year, so far, and some things are slipping.  

I might get back in the groove soon, but for now, I have lost my groove.  Any ideas on how to get it back?


After 24 years of homeschooling, it is hard to believe this year has finally arrived.

The final year.

When I started homeschooling, I took it one year at a time.

I didn’t look ahead to high school and wonder if I could teach it when I only had a first grader.

I didn’t concern myself with college admissions before I had students in high school.

I didn’t get too worried about how to teach multiple children in multiple grades, either.  I just found what worked best for us, made a schedule, and stuck to it as best I could.

And now, it is the beginning of the end.

What does that look like for us?

My youngest left for community college this morning (and every morning this week).  She is taking all her classes there as dual-credit courses.

I didn’t think I would ever choose to homeschool this way, but it makes sense this year. 

As the youngest of 7 children, she is used to being around people and we just could not envision homeschooling one student, after years of having multiple children to educate.

So, now I am home alone instead of her being home ‘alone’ with me.

She took several classes as dual credit last year, so this will not be a problem for her.

It might be a problem for me -- adjusting to a quiet house, not lesson planning, changing direction.

I do still direct her education by making sure she has enough of the right credits to graduate and helping her plan for life after high school.

What about you?  How did you transition after your last year of homeschooling?   

It is a little bitter-sweet.  I find myself "looking ahead and looking behind", as Gandalf said.

I have been culling the books from shelves and my next post will be about which books make the cut and get to stay on my shelves!
Follow me by email to find out which books earned top honors.

A Message to First Year College Students and Their Parents


The time of year when first time college students are excited (and maybe a little nervous) about starting a new phase in their life.

The time of year when parents begin to realize that their 'baby' is no longer a baby and is about to spread their wings and fly.

I have written some things in the past to parents and students about how to navigate this time of life that merit re-visiting.

For parents, my post on Coping When Your Child Leaves for College has tips on dealing with your feelings and navigating the weeks after your student leaves home.

For students, even though you probably heard some great tips at orientation about succeeding and getting involved at college, these 5 Simple Steps for College Success are easy to do.  I promise if you implement them from your first day of class, you will have a great semester!

As you shop for dorm room accessories and decide what cooking supplies you need, this post, Dorm Room Cooking will help.  It also has some easy recipes that can be made in the microwave.

Parents, when you start thinking about care packages and finals survival kits, check out Create the Perfect College Finals Survival Kit.  I created this after looking for ideas that didn't include tons of junk food.  It has a good mix of healthy and fun.  

Enjoy the last few weeks of August.  

Rejoice that your student is maturing.

Students- call home sometimes.

When December rolls around, both students and parents, will be amazed at the difference a few months can make.

What Does "Test Optional" College Admission Mean for Homeschoolers?

I received this request from Jennifer this week:

           I would like to see you write on your blog about the potential new trend
          of colleges not requiring test scores for admission. George Washington University
          dropped this requirement for incoming freshmen. How do you feel this will
          change admission for homeschool graduates if it becomes more wide spread like
           expected? I can see it being a potential double edged sword.

I have done a little research and formulated an answer for Jennifer and anyone else who is wondering the same thing about colleges not requiring test scores for admission and how this will affect homeschool graduates.

First, George Washington University is not the first college to drop the test scores requirement for admission.  I found this website  with a list of schools that "do not require ACT/SAT scores for admitting substantial numbers of students into Bachelor's degree programs."  In fact, the website states that more than 800 four-year colleges and universities fall into this category.

Is this a double-edged sword?
Possibly, but not necessarily.

Second, colleges will still accept ACT/SAT scores, but don't necessarily require them.

The colleges that are dropping the test requirement still want some documentation from homeschooled applicants.  Some of the requirements I found (not all schools require everything)are: 

 portfolios that include courses taken including a list of textbooks, books read, statement of philosophy of homeschooling and why it was chosen; 2 recommendations; a transcript; an interview; and all the required application essays and resume.

For me, it would be easier to have my student take the standardized test to verify the grades on the transcript.  For others, the above list is a welcome change.

Some colleges that are test optional still ask home educated students for a test score.  Some of the test-optional state colleges require out-of-state students to submit a test score. 

Bottom line: I believe 'test optional' gives students the opportunity to put their best foot forward.

If a student doesn't test well, but has an awesome portfolio and can interview well, then that is an advantage for the student.  (Even colleges that require ACT/SAT will look at a portfolio for admission.)

If a student does test well, they can still submit test scores as part of the admission process and I think it would be to their advantage to do so.

I am taking my own advice this year about what to do about the new SAT.  My rising senior is only taking the ACT (without writing) because she does well on that test and the schools on her list will accept either test. 

How do you think test optional admission policies will affect home educated students?
Will it help give a better picture of the student's academic ability?
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