Monday, December 28, 2009

ACT Inc.: EXPLORE and PLAN Assessment Tests

We are a relaxed homeschool family.  We use our curriculum in a relaxed manner.  We rely on literature and living books as much as we possibly can, to help our children connect to the subject matter we're studying.   We don't pile unnecessary busy work or subjects on our children.  We aren't studying for geography or spelling bees, we aren't memorizing ancient poems, and we aren't learning three different languages.  We also are not taking yearly standardized tests in our homeschool. 

At first, it was a philosophical issue that kept us from taking yearly tests.  While I still have that philosophical issue about those tests, and I still see no reason to put my younger children through that ... I have come to appreciate them for older students.  If my children desire to attend college, they will be taking tests to prove their college readiness as part of the application process.  Once they are in college, they will have timed final exams, as well. 

Earlier this Fall, I realized that I needed to start preparing my 9th grade and 7th grade daughters for these new experiences, since they have expressed interest in attending college.  I was considering signing them up for a standardized test somewhere, and wondered if any homeschool groups in the area had a testing date.  It was around that time that I received ACT, Inc's assessment tests --  EXPLORE and PLAN -- to review for the TOS Homeschool Crew.

The EXPLORE test is for the 8th or 9th grade student.  It tests four areas:  English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.   It is designed to help prepare your student for the ACT test, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and also help them begin to plan and prepare for their future education and career.   Each of the four sections is a timed multiple-choice test.  It's the traditional #2 pencil, color the circle in completely, scan-tron test I haven't seen since I graduated from college.  My daughter had never seen a scan-tron test before.

Each EXPLORE Homeschool packet comes with the Sample Test Booklet and Answer Sheet, the Using Your EXPLORE Results brochure, and the College Readiness Standards Handbook.  This packet is available for $22.95.

The PLAN test is designed for the 10th grade student, and is also for assessing your student's progress toward college or workforce readiness, their strengths and weaknesses, and any changes you need to make in their remaining high school years.   It also tests English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science in a multiple choice, fill in the bubble, scan-tron method.  The four sections of the test are timed, and the answers are provided for the parent to grade the test at home.

Each PLAN Homeschool packet comes with the  Sample Test Booklet and Answer Sheet, the Using Your PLAN Results brochure, and the College Readiness Standards Handbook.  This packet is also available for $22.95.

The ElCloud Experience and Opinion

We are not required to do standardized testing in our state.  Living in a small town, with a small homeschool group, there also isn't an organized way to test our children if we wanted to do so.  But being a relaxed homeschooler, that didn't really bother me.

The EXPLORE test was my 9th grade daughter's first ever standardized test.  She had a composite of 21 out of 25 ...  92% of 9th graders are at or below that in the Fall.  Not bad!!  Her math was weak, but still above average.  Her reading test was lower than we expected, showing that she needed to learn to pay better attention to detail.  A lesson learned from a first testing experience.

I wasn't surprised that her math test was low, but I was surprised by the reading scores.  She and I decided to go ahead and have her take the PLAN test for 10th graders, as well.  We wanted to see two things: 

  • would her scores in math and reading improve now that she had experience in test taking?

  • where would she rank in a grade above her actual grade? 

When she took the PLAN test, she did improve her reading and science scores, but her math went down a little bit (as I expected).  Her overall composite was higher on the 10th grade PLAN test than it had been on the 9th grade EXPLORE test.  I am sure this was just from having gained experience in test taking the day before.    Her composite score on the PLAN test was 23 out of 25, which puts her in the 97th percentile.  97 percent of 10th graders score at or below the level she did. 

We knew math was her weak area, so those scores did not surprise us.  We also know that writing is another weak area of hers.  The EXPLORE and PLAN do not test writing, but the ACT and SAT will.   These tests were a blessing to us.  They provided us with the assurance of areas she's excelling in, and confirmed the areas we need to work on.  More specifically, I can also examine the errors she made in the math section to see what type of math problems she missed.

The instructions were clear and easy for me to follow in grading the tests, converting the raw score to the scale score, and then comparing the scores with the national norms (percents at or below that score).  The four sections of each test took 20 - 40 minutes each.   The EXPLORE and PLAN tests each took us half a school-day to take a test section, score it, take a break, then move on to the next test section.

In general, these tests have been very helpful to us both.  No one sees them but us, and they aren't a requirement ... so pressure during test-taking is decreased.  But the test-taking experience they gave my daughter was perfect.  I was able to explain to her how to fill out the form, walk her through timed testing with tips about skipping ones you don't know and returning to them later.  Then she was able to take her first timed test in the comfort of her own home, which reduced some of the stress the timer can create. 

I'm so thankful she had this experience NOW before we begin taking PSAT's, SAT's, or ACT's.  It gave her a confidence boost, as well as an idea of what the ACT will be like when it is time to take that test.  I am sure she'll feel somewhat stressed when she enters a more formal testing environment, but I also know it will be less stressful than it would have been without this experience.

I definitely recommend ACT Inc's EXPLORE and PLAN tests for homeschool parents.  They would be especially helpful to parents whose children haven't taken any standardized tests but are thinking ahead to college.  These tests provide an excellent way to practice and prepare for the ACT,  assess weak areas, and make plans for your student's high school education and beyond.  They are affordable at $22.95 each, and although they only come with one scan-tron sheet, the booklets could be re-used for review.

This item was provided free for our review as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew.  We received no other compensation, and this review is our honest opinion.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner at the top to read more reviews on this product by other Homeschool Crew members.

Trusting In Him,

1 comment:

  1. April,

    It sounds like you & I have a lot of the same attitudes about school (living books, lots of literature, basic dislike of standardized tests) so this review was fun to read.

    I do live in a state that requires testing though, so my kids have done standardized tests starting in 3rd grade. But I have to say... we got far more useful information out of the Explore test than we do from our regular standardized tests.

    I also happen to be married to someone who thinks the standardized tests are really important, so even if we weren't legally required to do them, I know he would insist. Of course, in that case, my middle schoolers could just do Explore or Plan, and not also have to take something else.

    Thanks for a great review :)

    Debra at


I love to hear from you. Thanks for your comment!