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SAT and ACT Test Prep: An Interview with Diane Kummer

January 6–10, 2014   |   Vol. 118, Programs 21–25

This week’s guest shares SAT and ACT test prep advice with Home School Heartbeat’s host Mike Smith.

“On average I recommend a student begin preparing for the college entrance tests about six months prior to actually taking the test.”—Diane Kummer

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Taking the SAT and ACT is a big and often stressful part of getting ready for college. Well, this week on Home School Heartbeat , host Mike Smith and one of HSLDA’s high school consultants, Diane Kummer, share how your student can be confident and ready for these tests.

Mike Smith: Our guest this week is Diane Kummer, one of HSLDA’s high school learning consultants. Diane, welcome back to Home School Heartbeat !

Diane Kummer: Well, thank you so much, Mike, nice to be here!

Mike: Well, Diane, because SAT and ACT test scores are such significant factors in college applications, parents and their high schoolers want to do the very best they can on the tests. How early do you think a student should actually begin preparing for the SAT and ACT and how intensely should they study?

Diane: Well, Mike, every teen is different, and each teen’s study plan will vary. However, on average I recommend a student begin preparing for the college entrance tests about six months prior to actually taking the test. This length of time provides teens with ample opportunity to work on practice problems, and also learn test-taking strategies. A motivated teen can easily spend 15 to 20 minutes a day working through practice problems in order to be comfortable with the format of the test, and to be familiar with instructions relating to different sections of the test. Parents will also want to give their teens practice in learning how to pace themselves so that a majority of the problems can be completed within an allotted time frame.

Mike: That’s very helpful. Thank you, Diane. Your insights this week will be very valuable for many homeschoolers. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: One of HSLDA’s high school consultants, Diane Kummer, is with me again today to talk about ACT and SAT tests. Now, Diane, what strategies can a high schooler use while preparing for these tests?

Diane Kummer: Well, I’d like to suggest a couple strategies, Mike. Every day on the CollegeBoard website , teens will find a practice problem to work on, and then they can check to see if they answered that question correctly. If your teen answers the problem incorrectly, he can access a step-by-step explanation of how to arrive at the right answer. The website notes how many teens respond to the question of the day, and how many students answered the problem correctly. This information gives you an idea of each question’s difficulty. Now in addition, I suggest purchasing a test prep resource. HSLDA’s high school section of the website lists a number of helpful items from which to choose. That’s important for a teen to take time to understand why he misses any practice problem. He can then learn from his mistakes and be better prepared when he next encounters a similar type of problem. Some parents may want to sign their teens up for test prep classes or even hire a tutor, but most parents simply opt to purchase a test prep resource and then have their teen study independently.

Mike: Again, Diane, very helpful advice. And next time we’ll talk about some testing challenges that homeschoolers may face. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Diane, what are some unique SAT and ACT test challenges that a homeschooler might face?

Diane Kummer: Most parents give their teens unlimited time when taking tests in a homeschool setting. So teens are not accustomed to taking timed tests. Parents may want to use free full-length practice tests found on the CollegeBoard and ACT websites to give their teens practice taking the test under timed conditions. Also, most teens haven’t had much practice in writing an essay under timed conditions. The writing process involves brainstorming, organizing ideas, and finally editing the piece. And this process usually occurs over several days or longer. Most of your teen’s writing should follow that process. However, when preparing teens for the SAT or ACT, give them practice writing an essay within a certain time frame. Another unique challenge homeschoolers face is adjusting to a new testing environment. That’s why I recommend that teens take the SAT or ACT at least twice. Scores almost always rise the second time around. Parents can also find test tips on the ACT and CollegeBoard websites.

Mike: Diane, again, very helpful information, especially to homeschoolers on how we can get ready to take these tests. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Test-taking can be nerve-wracking for anyone. Diane, do you have any tips that a student can keep in mind while taking the SAT or the ACT?

Diane Kummer: I’d like to recommend a couple of strategies, Mike. Students should be familiar with the format of the test. They should know how many sections are on the test, and be familiar with the directions specified in each section. All of this information is available on the CollegeBoard and ACT websites. Let your teens know it’s not wise to spend an inordinate amount of time on any one question. Remind them that if they are stuck on a particular question, it’s okay to move on to another problem. On the ACT, a student is not penalized for wrong answers, so it’s fine to use a process of elimination to try to arrive at the correct answer. On the SAT test, however, wrong answers to multiple choice questions result in a penalty of one-quarter of a point. So spend some time on the SAT and ACT websites to understand the scoring process of each test. Now when students take the practice test at home, use the bubble answer form. Remind your teens, if they choose to skip a question, they need to be extra careful to skip down that answer sheet when answering the next question.

Mike: Diane, I think these are some great insights to keep in mind as homeschoolers get ready to take these tests. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Diane, are there any resources you can recommend to help homeschoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT tests?

Diane Kummer: Yes, Mike, there are many resources available to homeschool students to prepare for either the SAT or ACT. The CollegeBoard says the best way to prepare for the SAT is to do a lot of reading and writing and take challenging high school courses. Parents should communicate that to their teens. Completing test practice problems is also very helpful, but teens shouldn’t minimize the fact that studying and doing well in all of their high school courses will result in better SAT and ACT test scores. HSLDA lists a number of good test prep resources on our website , including the ACT or SAT PowerPrep. Offered by a company called eKnowledge, this program retails for over $200 but is available on HSLDA’s website for approximately $18 for a one-year renewable license. Kaplan , Princeton Review , and Barron’s are some of the most popular test prep publishers.

Mike: Diane, I know these resources, as well as your other helpful insights this week, will be very much appreciated by our listeners. And thank you so much for joining us again!

Diane: You’re welcome, Mike!

Mike: And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Diane Kummer

Diane and her husband Tom homeschooled their two children from kindergarten through 12th grade using a variety of teaching options. The Kummers’ daughter completed her master’s degree in government and their son earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications/public relations. After her children graduated from high school, Diane helped to develop HSLDA’s Homeschooling Thru High School program and website. As an HSLDA High School Consultant, Diane regularly speaks throughout the country at homeschool conferences and one-day high school symposiums where she shares from her experiences and her imperfect (but real) homeschooling days! Diane enjoys writing articles (such as regular columns for the Homeschool Enrichment magazine), brochures on high school topics, and a monthly high school newsletter filled with helpful tips. She reviews new resources and provides personal consultation to HSLDA members by giving advice on high school planning, suggesting curriculum options, lending a listening ear, and reassuring parents they are on the right track as they head into the high school years. “The joy and grace of the Lord are available—and He has provided many avenues of care and help along the way,” she says. During her homeschooling years, Diane coordinated events, activities, and support meetings for her church’s 190-plus homeschooling families while developing a program that provided evaluation of credits, diplomas, and transcripts for high school families. Along with songwriters, singers, and actresses from her church, Diane was involved in two videos created by the FunnyMoms to encourage and uplift homeschooling mothers. Her love for math is evident as she continues to teach high school-level math classes for homeschooled students.

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