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We'll go in a sort of timeline order, if you will. You'll want to pencil these in on your 4-year plan so you have an idea of where these fall into place.
PSAT/NMSQT - This stands for the Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This is a test that college bound high school students should take during their Junior year. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation website has more information on this subject. However, know that taking this test can help qualify your student for a number of scholarships, not just the National Merit Scholarship. Plus, taking this test is good practice for when the ACT or SAT comes up. You'll need to contact a local school to arrange for your student to take this test as registration is done through high schools, not individuals.
Sometimes schools will encourage students to take the PSAT during their sophomore year, and that's fine. But, just note that in order to enter the contests for scholarships it must be taken (or re-taken) during the Junior year.
SAT - Colleges rely upon standardized college entrance tests to help them identify students who are most likely to succeed at their post-secondary institutions. The SAT is one such test. The other is the ACT. Its best to look at the admissions policy for the college or university your student wishes to attend as some schools seem to prefer one over the other.
Because SAT scores tend to be used for college admissions, this test should be coordinated so your student has test scores in hand when he or she submits an application. Because of this, I've heard its best to test during the Junior year. Also, this leaves plenty of time to retake the test if the score isn't what your student hoped. It generally takes about 5 weeks for scores to be received.
Registration for the SAT is done through the College Board - online, mail or phone.
ACT - This is the other standardized college entrance exam that many colleges and universities look at. Again, its best to look at admissions requirements for colleges and universities your student is interested in before committing to a test as some seem to prefer one over another. Its generally recommended that this test be taken during the Junior year.
The difference between the ACT and SAT is that the ACT is an achievement test, measuring what is already known while the SAT is an aptitude test that measures abilities.
Test scores are available online within about 2 1/2 weeks. Score reports are sent out anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks after the test. And, if you don't like your score you are allowed to test again then choose which score to send on to prospective colleges and universities.
To register, go to the ACT website
AP - This stands for "Advanced Placement" as in a course of study that is more rigorous than your normal high school class. AP courses end with taking a final exam that must be passed. Upon admission, some colleges will give a student a certain amount of credit earned for each AP course taken in high school. With the cost of college so high, that's great news!
According to the College Board website, a student's AP course load can be considered in decisions such as admissions and scholarships. As always, its best to look into the college or university your student plans to attend as to how they consider AP courses as there isn't always a consistency with these sorts of things.
A number of homeschool curriculum are now offering AP courses : Apologia's advanced courses for high school, Sonlight, Powerspeak has an AP Spanish program, and PHC Prep to name a few.
Because we the parents award diplomas for our homeschool students, be aware that to be able to label a course as "AP" on a transcript, the course syllabus must be pre-approved by the College Board AP Central (AP is a trademark). The website says specifically to homeschool students that even if you are unable to take an AP course, you can still participate through independent study and taking the test. Homeschoolers will need to contact AP Services to help locate a Coordinator willing to administer the test.
Usually, AP courses are taken in the Junior or Senior year of high school, depending on pre-requisites. And, make no mistake about it, these are challenging, time consuming classes.
CLEP - This stands for College Level Examination Program. In short, this is a way to earn college credit through a test - a huge money and time saver. Generally, CLEP exams are done through the college or university your student chooses to attend, but can also be done at various test centers. The College Board website has the lowdown on this including what tests can be taken and which institutions accept them (and not all do). If your student is great at independent learning, this would be a great way to earn college credit as you don't have to take any special classes beforehand, but studying would probably help. The website offers some helpful test preparation and information.
DSST - This test is very similar to the CLEP. It is funded for active-duty military and their spouses, but is open to homeschoolers and others for a fee.The Get College Credit website regarding homeschoolers has more information.
Whew! That's a lot to take in. But, its good to be in the know because good planning can really make a difference.
And yet again...
Please note that while I understand that not everyone intends or is suited to go on to higher learning or earn a degree, the information I am sharing is intended for those whose children are on track to attend college after high school.
I am in no way an expert in the way of planning out high school for homeschool. These are my mental notes in blog form. Feel free to swim around in my mental-ness.
Please note that these companies and websites have not asked nor compensated me in return for this post. I cannot and will not personally vouch for the information found on other websites nor should the links I include be interpreted as any sort of personal endorsement of websites or products.