How I created my own homeschool AP course

How to create a homeschool AP course

AP is a copyright of the College Board.

Last year we started homeschooling high school with our oldest. Her goal is to earn as much college credit during high school as possible, and one of the ways we are doing that is by taking AP exams.  (You can read more about what the AP exams are and how your student can earn college credit in my post on college planning). Our state has a free online public school that we can use to take classes, and have done so for a few in the past.  They did offer the particular AP class she wanted, but we decided to do our own thing and create a homeschool “AP” course ourselves.

When trying to choose which exam to take, it’s important to realize that some exams are harder than others – especially when it comes to getting a 5. Choosing a course in a subject that your student is interested in and excels in will give them a better chance of getting a high score.  PrepScholar has a great article listing the passing rates of the exams from 2014 and a discussion on what those rates mean.

The only way to label your course as AP is to submit your course information to the College Board and go through their AP Course Audit.  Since I’m only teaching my 2 kids and have no plans to create an online course, this was not something I wanted to pursue, nor was it necessary.  We were fine with just an “AP” like course (which you could certainly label as an Honors course).

Before I go into how I planned this course, I wanted to mention something that is important for you to research before you choose not to enroll in an official AP course somewhere.  Many colleges and universities give different GPA weights to AP classes over honors.  I would contact the admissions office of the colleges your child is thinking of attending and ask them what their policy is for this when it comes to homeschoolers.  Our university of choice told me that if my child has a corresponding AP Test score to the course that they will weight it as AP.  I was sure to get that in writing and I am keeping it in our high school portfolio for later reference.  If your university will not give the extra weight to the grade, I would consider the impact that has on their GPA before moving forward.

Planning your course

Step 1: Purchase the test prep book for your selected exam.

The test prep books for the new year’s exams are usually available in August.  The exams don’t normally change drastically from one year to the next, so if you want to start planning before the current book comes out, the previous year’s book should work just fine.  When the new books come out it’s worth at least looking through the opening chapter to see if there are any changes for the new exam.

The test prep books are going to list for you the major themes of the course.  In the particular course we did last year there were 7.  I used this for my framework to build the rest of the course around and also to help me plan how long we could spend on each section.

Step 2: Decide on a text book.

Depending on which exam your student is taking, you might want a text book to use as the main source of material.  The College Board has a list of recommended texts on their educator page for each specific exam. You might decide that the text is not necessary, but it was helpful to me to see what most formal classes use.  A quick google search will bring up not only the College Board page but also links on where to rent or buy the texts.  Below are links to some of the more popular exams’ book lists:

AP English Language

AP English Literature

AP Human Geography

AP World History

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP American Government

AP Macroeconomics

AP Psychology

Step 3: Search online for resources.

One of the great things about this day and age is that it can be really easy to find tons of great resources online.  A google search of the AP Exam we wanted to take led me to several sites of suggested syllabi, project ideas, test tips and more. Saving these to a Pinterest board or to a site like Evernote can allow you to search now and analyze later.  Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for infographics, videos, and strategies for your chosen exam.

Step 4: Determine your timeframe.

Go to the College Board site and find out when your exam is offered. Decide how many days/weeks you want to allow for review (I would suggest at least 2 weeks) and back up that long from the exam date.  This will give you the date you need to finish the main course work.  Take the date you plan on starting the course and count how many weeks you have until the finish date you determined.  Divide that by the number of sections or themes from the AP test prep book.  This will tell you how long to spend on each section.

Step 5: Create your course outline.

This will be different for everyone, but what I did was group my resources into the major themes and go through them to determine what I wanted to use and what I didn’t really need.  You can determine what chapters from the text you want to cover for each theme and assign them accordingly based on your timeframe.

It’s important that your student gets plenty of practice on the types of questions the exam will have, as well as understanding how to do the essay portion.  For me, the easiest way to incorporate that is by using the sample tests from the test prep book as our course tests.  I assigned writing assignments based on the essay questions from the test prep book throughout the course.  You can also view past exams’ essay questions on the apstudent.collegeboard.org site for the individual exam.

For us, the flexibility of studying the AP course material on our own was worth the effort it took for me to compile it all.  We were able to move at her pace, taking time where she needed it and moving on where she didn’t.  In fact, I’m devoting most of my summer planning to working on my outline for next year’s history AP! 🙂

 

Planning for College: Earning Homeschool AP Credit

How to earn homeschool AP credit

College tuition costs are generally determined by a specific charge per credit hour.  The average class is 3 hours for an undergraduate course, which right now at my state’s university would cost around $630.  The average bachelor degree requires 120 hours of courses, or over $25,000 and up.  These tuition rates have been climbing at a steady 5% a year.  Depressed yet?  Well don’t be.  There are ways to cut these costs way down, and as homeschoolers we have more opportunity than most to take advantage of them.

One of the easiest ways to lower tuition costs is to lower the number of credit hours your student has to pay for, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by earning credit in high school.

This post’s focus will be on earning homeschool AP credit.  AP stands for Advanced Placement and is a copyright of the College Board.

The AP tests are administered each May by the College Board (the same people who do the SAT and PSAT) at local public high schools around the country.  The tests generally last around 3 hours and include a combination of multiple choice and essay writing.  There are more than 35 different subjects available to earn AP credit.  The idea behind AP is that the student would study a particular subject during the school year at a college level and then take the test in May.  The student earns a high school credit for the course, and depending on their score and desired college, could also earn 3-6 hours of college course credit.

In order for a course to be labeled as AP, the College Board requires the school to submit the course outline to them for an AP Audit.  You can read more about that on their educator section here.  As homeschoolers, most of us don’t have the time or the need to submit our plans for the audit, because you can still teach the material without having the AP label.  So how do you do it?

I recommend purchasing one of the major AP study guides on the market for the subject you want to teach.  This will give you the framework you need to plan out your curriculum.  There are also a few online courses you can enroll your student in if you would prefer not to teach it yourself.  Our state virtual school has classes for all of the most popular AP tests.  You can read more about how I planned our own homeschool course here.

You are not required to do any particular coursework to sign up for most of the AP tests.  For some subjects, working through the one of the AP study guides could be enough to prepare your student to pass.  This is not usually the case, but it is an option.  These tests are rigorous, and the essay portion differs from test to test, so it’s important to take preparation seriously.

Each test is administered only once, either in the morning or afternoon.  As a homeschooler, you would need to call your local high school and ask to speak with their AP testing coordinator sometime in the first half of the school year, but absolutely no later than the first week in March.  Explain to them that you have a homeschool student that you would like to register for the AP test.  You usually will have to pay for the exam (around $80) and bring your student up to the school to fill out some sort of registration.  The College Board has information on their site about how we as homeschoolers can register for the exams here that might be useful to direct the school administrator to if you have any issues.

Your student will need to create an account online in order to receive updates and their test scores.  The https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/home page has all the information they need.  Test scores are usually released in July.  The College Board has a tab where you can type in the college or university your child wants to attend and see a list of the scores required and credits given.  This differs from school to school and it’s also a good idea to check with the college’s site as well to get the most up to date information.  In many cases, scoring a 4 on the exam will earn them 6 hours of credit!  In other words, an $80 test can earn you over $1200 worth of tuition reduction – a pretty good trade off if you ask me!

 

To Test or Not To Test, That is the Question

Homeschool testing is a hot debate. I was at a local chapter meeting tonight for a professional organization I belong to. There were many people there I didn’t know, and as it normally does in new conversations, the topic turned to kids, and eventually to the fact that I homeschool. One of my new acquaintances was a former teacher, and was aghast when I told her that our state doesn’t require any testing for homeschoolers.

Can you guess what her next question was???? Yep, you’re right. “But HOW do you know what they’re learning if you don’t TEST them?”

I calmly informed her that since I was involved in their learning everyday and that there are only 2 of them instead of 30 I was always aware of how and what they are learning. (Then I moved on to another topic before things got too prickly).

This whole concept of testing comes up frequently in homeschool circles – especially that first year when you are trying to fight the instinct to replicate public school at home. Our state’s standardized test is hated by every parent that I meet, yet most are quick to turn right around and ask me why I don’t have my kids take it. Our local schools put an extreme amount of emphasis on this test and devote the majority of their teaching to it. I feel very fortunate to not have to be under its rule.

Every family has to decide whether or not testing of any kind will be a part of their homeschool. In our homeschool, we do have tests. I give them spelling or vocabulary tests on Fridays, and their math books have a test about every 5 lessons. We work on mastery, so if they don’t score well on these tests they do the lessons over.

We also participate in standardized testing once a year with our local homeschool organization. Our group uses the ITBS. This year my oldest will participate in SAT testing through Duke TIP as well.

I test them for a few simple reasons. 1. One of my educational goals is college preparedness, and in college you have to take lots of exams. I don’t want that to be their first experience trying to study. 2. We do the annual standardized test so that they have lots of practice taking this kind of exam. Scholarships are based on test scores, and I feel like the more opportunity they have to be exposed to standardized tests, the less test anxiety they will have in high school when they really count. As a bonus, I can use these test scores as our annual evaluation for the state, so it’s an easy way to make sure our requirements are met.

When you’re deciding on testing, reflect back on your homeschool goals. As with all other education decisions, your goals will help guide you to the right decision for your family. 🙂

20130821-093413.jpg

SAT Test Prep The Easy Way

sat prep

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I took some great classes at our local homeschool convention. One of the most outstanding was a class on preparing for homeschooling high school and how to get scholarship money for college taught by Jean Burk from College Prep Genius.

Workbook and DVD from CollegePrepGenius

Workbook and DVD from CollegePrepGenius

Jean was a homeschool mom who decided to find out all she could on the SAT and PSAT tests to help her oldest get into college, and to attend for as little as possible. Her research resulted in a full ride to just about any college he wanted – in fact she said they threw away 7 garbage bags of acceptance letters! What Jean found was not that your child has to be a genius to get these high scores and awards, but that he or she needs to understand how the test is written.

Unlike the ACT, which is a content based exam, the SAT is a logic based test. This means that there is a way to think critically through the question asked and answers provided WITHOUT having to ‘know’ the math formulas or the vocabulary. I was skeptical at first, but Jean walked us through several examples in the lecture and I understood exactly what she was saying! In fact, later at her booth I was joking with her that I was relieved I no longer needed to teach my kids higher math. 🙂 (If only that was so!) What this means is that the kids can actually learn the test, and by doing so score much higher. Higher scores means more money for college. I like those words.

Collegeprepgenius.com has several products to help prepare your kids for the SAT. I purchased the ‘kit’ that includes a DVD with classes on it, a workbook that teaches the SAT and has sample questions, her book on high school preparation, and 6 fiction books that are full of vocabulary words often tested on the SAT. You can get these items individually as well. I just got them in the mail a couple of days ago, and after looking through everything I have been really impressed.

You may wonder why I am worrying about the SAT now when my oldest is only a rising 8th grader. First, I’m always looking ahead and I figured that the more practice the kids have with these tests, the better they will score. 9th grade is only a year away for us, so why not give her time to get a feel for the test before hand? Secondly, if you participate in Duke’s TIP program, they actually begin giving the kids the real SAT in 7th grade. My oldest will be doing that in December, so it makes sense to start preparing for it a little bit now.

There are lots of test prep classes and techniques out there. So far, I have been really impressed with everything I have seen from Jean Burk. The true test will be in our ultimate scores, but I know if nothing else going through this course will take away some of the test anxiety they might have otherwise felt. Plus, going through the DVD course and all the practice testing will give the kids a semester high school credit for test prep too.

Check out more test prep ideas on my Test Prep Pinterest Board.

Do any of you have experience with this course or another test prep?

*The SAT and PSAT are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board, and the products at CollegePrepGenius are copyrights of Maven of Memory Publishing.