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Feeling Discouraged about ACT scores

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My son is in the 10th grade and we have been preparing for the ACT for about a year. He took the test last April and his scores were less than desirable. He is a good student and makes good grades. I just received his score from the test he took last month and his composite score only increased by 2 points. I am feeling so discouraged about this. I feel that I am doing everything possible to help him. I have purchased several ACT prep books and he has practiced almost every day since January. Many of his peers are beginning dual enrollment at the local college. What am I doing wrong? I see so many home schoolers who barely do any schooling, and I work so hard with my child, yet I don't see the payoff for it. I wonder if he just doesn't apply himself, or if he just doesn't care. If any of you have been through this, please advise me as to what I should do. Thanks.

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Oh, please don't be so hard on yourself (or him)! Some people just don't test well. You say he is a good student and gets good grades, so you and he are surely doing something right!


In which areas are his scores lowest, or is it across the board? If you can pinpoint the areas of difficulty, perhaps you can come up with a game plan. Also, if you get the score book (or whatever it's called), perhaps you can go over the things he missed and find out if he's reading questions/problems wrong, or just what.


How does he do in the practice books? Did you have him take practice exams? If so, how did he do? If his scores were much higher doing that, perhaps he feels lots of pressure during the "real thing."


Fortunately, you've still got time to work with him. Also, test scores aren't the be-all-to-end-all. It's just a number, and it isn't necessarily a reflection of how hard a person works, or how bright he is.


Also, you might want to try having him take the SAT. Some students do much better on that than on the ACT (and vice versa). My son did much better on the SAT.

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He did well on the English and Math sections, but bombed in Reading and Science. I expected the score in Science since we haven't worked on it a great deal, but the score in Reading was totally off. I was just wondering if an increase of 2 points in the composite was typical, or do most students greatly increase it over a year. I just expected that it would increase 4 or 5 points. Is that asking too much after working so diligently? I have seen quite an improvement in his scores on the ACT prep books; I guess that's why I was dumbfounded with his results.

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I think that not doing well on the reading section and the science section can be closely related. We were looking into using the ACT rather than the SAT because my son's weakest area is the critical reading portion of the SAT. Since he is very strong in Science, we thought that he might perform better on the ACT than the SAT. Based on the practice tests that we ran, we were wrong in this assumption. Because ds is a slow reader, he consequently did not do well on the reading and science portions. He could not get through it quickly enough. Since that science portion is really a reading portion with scientific content, it does make sense that a student whose weak area is reading would struggle with both.


Is it possible for you to use the SAT in your area? Have you considered trying a practice test on the SAT at home to see how his scores compare? We really were surprised at our own results. I had assumed the ACT would be better for us, but we are currently prepping for the SAT in June instead.

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I was just wondering if an increase of 2 points in the composite was typical, or do most students greatly increase it over a year. I just expected that it would increase 4 or 5 points. Is that asking too much after working so diligently? I have seen quite an improvement in his scores on the ACT prep books; I guess that's why I was dumbfounded with his results.


WAY back in the dark ages, I took the ACT twice (a year apart).


I got a 19 on the first one and a 21 on the second (or was it 21 then 23??? I truly don't recall).


They were done a year apart, and I certainly tried harder on my second attempt.


A bit OT, but we have a friend that is a linguistic genius (all the romance languages, German, Arabic, Persian Farsi, Hebrew. . . .). He's been around so many "natives" that say he speaks as if he is one; he can read newspapers/books in these other languages. . .and I test better than him on language tests! (That's significant, as my only concern in any other language is to be able to find the bathroom.) Some people truly just don't test well!

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Well, he had the test twice, as a 9th grader and as a 10th grader, correct? So he has almost two years before it really counts, right?

I'd actually give him some time away from prepping, because he might be burned out--two years to prep for one test that most people take as a tail-end junior or 1st sem senior is an awful lot. Some of it is probably maturity-based. There's a pretty big difference in reading speed, vocab and comprehension between a 14 yo and a 17 yo, for example.


I'd probably give him a little (6 month) break, have him read and summarize after that, and relax. Are you teaching test prep or content? Check out a different company's prep book to see if there are more tips on actually taking the test (I'm thinking Princeton Review--their SAT prep is really good, but I don't know if they prep for the ACT). Encourage him to read a little faster--perhaps better scanning? Or is it comprehension based? See if you can pinpoint his weaknesses.


Hang in there. I've got mine taking the tests as an 18 yo. We by-passed the PSAT, and are just shooting for two tries at the SAT and one try at the ACT, Senior year.


Oh, and I wouldn't worry about dual enrollment and needing an SAT or ACT score to do so--unless they specifically ask for it, you usually don't need those tests for CC (but ymmv, of course). He has plenty of time.

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I would agree with the others and suggest that your son try the SAT as well as the ACT. I also think it makes sense, as some suggested, to pay the extra few dollars and get a copy of the actual ACT he took and his scores so you can pinpoint his weak areas.


Testing isn't the be all to end all. If you think that he'd do well at a community college, taking classes there would be a great way to show that he's capable of college-level work. You could have him start with 1 class in an area that he's strong in, and if he does well, add on more courses as time goes on.


Also, there are more and more colleges that are "test optional", where your student doesn't have to submit ACT or SAT scores. If he has specific interests or passions (a specific sport, hobby, or community service), you can help him to build a strong case in those areas that will show schools that he would be a strong member of their community.


Last summer, I read a book called, "What Colleges Don't Tell You (And Other Parents Don't Want You to Know): 272 Secrets for Getting Your Kid into the Top Schools" by Elizabeth Gross. It was recommended by some here. While I didn't like her attitude in a lot of places, I thought the book gave some excellent ideas on how to help your student develop a special interest/passion that would make them more attractive to colleges.


One of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling, I think, is that we can help our child to be viewed as an individual by colleges and not just student #34 from PS #545 in our state. If your son doesn't test well, it might take a little more effort to help him shine in the end, but you are in the best possible position to make that happen.


Best wishes,


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You've gotten a lot of good advice from others about some kids not testing well. I thought I'd add some thoughts about parental expectations in case they apply, either in your case or for someone else reading this thread. The 50th percentile on the ACT is somewhere in the 20-22 range. Threads on this board have stated that a "good" score is a 30. A 30 is the 97th percentile. Only 3% of the test takers will achieve it (IMHO, anything average or above is a "good" score; even a below average score can be "good" for a particular student).


In my experience, I've seen three issues at play in how well my dd's perform on anything--innate ability to learn/perform the task, quality of exposure/instruction, and personal goals/motivation to do the task well. As parents, the only one we can really control through homeschooling is the quality of instruction. The other two characteristics are pretty much up to God and the student.


I've heard stories of kids having monumental jumps in composite scores from test to test, but that wasn't our experience. My oldest dd tested in fall of her sophomore year, and again at the end of junior year--basically two academic years apart. She raised her composite by a total of 4 points, which would be an average of 2 points per academic year. The sections of the test that are the most likely to benefit from more schooling are those where the student actually acquires additional substantive knowledge e.g. math. The other sections benefit from increased maturity and additional practice (e.g. reading), but the result is more indirect. FWIW, the ACT science section is reading/analysis heavy, not particularaly substance oriented.


Dual enrollment can be great for some kids, even at a young age. However, remember that it is college, not high school. Not all kids are ready for college as 16 year olds. As with the ACT, a quality prepatory program is only one part of the equation. Moreover, not all dual enrollment situations are created equal. Some may offer courses that are actually weaker than a good high school course, others may be very academically rigorous. I have had to come to accept that there are kids out there who will outperform my absolutely wonderful, brilliant, perfect in every way :001_rolleyes: dc. It's actually been one of the tougher lessons in my own maturation process. Now that I'm graduating my oldest, my two youngers will benefit from my reality check.


Stay the course and tweak whatever you think needs tweaking. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Even if your ds never achieves the ACT score of which he is capable, there's a path out there that will be the right one for him.

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My 10th grade ds took a practice ACT through Princeton review at the library with about 15 other kids and did alright particularly in reading.


He took the ACT in April at the local public high school with over 200 students. I was the only parent who walked into the school. They came over the loud speaker and you couldn't understand a word they said, so the students didn't respond. They came out on the balcony and started screaming at the kids to try and direct them. The kids were not particularly out of control, but they were loud. There were some young ladies who were showing a lot of skin, but it didn't really faze me. However, my ds did ask me if one of them would be able to sit down. I didn't realize how much the atmosphere had affected my ds until he gave his account of the situation to another homeschool mom.


His score in reading dropped 9 points from his score on the practice test. He made the lowest score that he could make and still qualify for dual enrollment. His math and English scores were too low to qualify for math, science, or English. Our local CC doesn’t take into account the science, but instead uses the math score as a qualifier for CC science. He will be taking the ACT again in June at a private school where hopefully they will be better organized and the students will be calmer and more conservatively attired.


So the point was, maybe your ds was not comfortable in the testing situation.



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Thank you all for your encouragement and advice. I appreciate it so much. I think we will lay off of the test prep for a while and pick it up later. I think the testing environment plays a small part as my son is a nervous tester. I hope by doing the practice test he will eventually be put at ease. Once again, thank you all for responding. I do feel a little better.

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