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Homeschool Crew Review: DISCOVER Online, EXPLORE, and PLAN

As you know, I’m from Canada, where many of the US teen institutions are not a big deal.  Prom, college (as opposed to university), fraternities and sororities, SAT tests, and ACT tests are all mostly south-of-the-border things.  In fact, I didn’t even really hear about SAT and ACT tests until very recently.  So much for my decade in university!


No wonder, then, that it took me a while to realize that the ‘company’ I was supposed to review was actually part of the group that sets the ACT test.  But it is.  And I’m meant to review, not the ACT test itself (phew!), but other services provided by their educational program, ACT Advantage: 


ACT Advantage’s DISCOVER Online

“DISCOVER is a premier career guidance and information system that helps students learn more about themselves, explore career options, and make sound educational decisions.”   It includes


1.      A detailed and interactive online college and career planning program

2.      The DISCOVER High School Curriculum Guide


1. DISCOVER, the Online Program

My only previous experience with computer career planning was a program in high school that told me to be a forester (a result shared by other geeky types), so I wasn’t too hopeful about DISCOVER’s accuracy.  Rather to my surprise, the program discovered my interests and inclinations accurately.  Out of all the possibilities, I ended up smack dab in the sciences where, by interest and aptitude, I would still be… except that I’ve been called to a higher task: that of raising and educating my children. 


This is how DISCOVER works.  You answer three detailed questionnaires to gauge your interests, abilities, and values.  After this, you’re presented with a list of your results, which are also plotted on a colorful hexagon according to your interest in people versus things and data versus ideas.  For each suggested career area you can see whether it matches your interests, your abilities, your values, or a combination of these.  All this information is stored in your portfolio for you to access the next time you use the program.


You can click on each of these career areas to see what individual occupations are available, preselected by the education level you might be interested in (high school, some training, 2-year degree, 4-year degree, or graduate degree).  Each occupation has an ‘I’ listed if it suits your interests, an ‘A’ if matches your abilities, and a ‘V’ if it matches your values.  If an occupation interests you, you can click on it and find huge amounts of relevant information. (Just keep on clicking ‘next’ at the very bottom of each screen.)   Information for each occupation includes:

  • work tasks and settings,
  • abilities needed,
  • training (including recommended high school courses and extracurricular activities as well as university majors),
  • detailed salary information and projected growth rate for each state,
  • businesses or institutions you would work for,
  • occupations of  people you would work with, 
  • related occupations,
  • personal qualities and skills that would help in this occupation,
  • things workers in this occupation may like or dislike about their job,
  • whether or not the military offers this occupation,
  • contacts for more information.

Finally, there is an opportunity to add occupations to your portfolio and to print out what you are interested in.


You can also explore occupations by salary, number of openings, growth rate, income, physical demands, and more. 


You can explore college majors in a similar way, determining what courses are involved in your chosen major and what occupations it can lead to.  Colleges themselves are listed by state, majors, admission selectivity, cost, and more.  You can state what is important to you in the choice of a college, and the program will give you a list of institutions meeting your criteria.  It also has general information about scholarships and financial aid.


Finally, for students not interested in post secondary education, DISCOVER helps with resume building, and has information on finding a job, planning an internship or apprenticeship, and even on starting a business.


When our children took the inventories, the results were not surprising.  The value of the program for them was to confirm what directions to explore.  It also suggested occupations in fields that they would never have explored on their own, and gave them detailed information about each one.   


2. DISCOVER High School Curriculum Guide    

This is a 250+ page book ‘designed to integrate career exploration into the classroom.’  It offers several options to explore and enhance the DISCOVER Online program, including

  • a mini-course (importance of career exploration; interests; values; abilities; planning for the future)
  • subject matter activities (English, math, science, social science),
  • career planning activities (importance of and approach to planning),
  • educational planning activities (high school courses, colleges, affording college)
  • job search activities (jobs, applications, resumes, evaluation job offers)


 This curriculum guide offers many approaches to using DISCOVER, including detailed handouts and games.  Even though the guide is not necessary to use DISCOVER online, it’s worth a parent’s time to look through it carefully.  It contains quite a few useful activities that are not easily found elsewhere, such as planning to live on a budget, exploring possible obstacles to one’s goals, and evaluating job offers.  It also highlights the possibilities of the online program, and showed me some features that I had missed.


The guide is not something to work through from start to finish, but its five sections seem to make up three comprehensive options.  The first is the mini-course, the second comprises the subject matter activities, and the third contains the sections on career planning, educational planning, and job search activities.  Some projects in these options overlap. 


 Each project has an overview listing its purpose, objective, required time, needed materials, and suggested grade level.  Then the activities are outlined, followed by instructions and/or an answer key and then by the activity pages for the student.  Note that this guide is for classroom use but can easily be adapted to a homeschool setting.



My Quibbles with DISCOVER

Even though the DISCOVER program itself is very good, a few points bother me.


  • The website is occasionally difficult to navigate.  For one of my children, two of the three inventories were impossible to access without using the site map.  If you buy DISCOVER, do use the site map; it is clear, organized, and complete.


  • The curriculum guide doesn’t have consecutive page numbers (!), so I handwrote the page numbers of the book’s pdf file onto the table of contents and the pages I printed out.  Although the book is thorough, it is organized in a complicated way and will require some study before you can decide what you want to use and what not.


  • When you look at the DISCOVER site it is not immediately obvious that there is a curriculum guide. 


  • As a highly educated stay-at-home mom it bothers me that being a mother or even a housewife is not listed as an occupation.  This is, of course, quite common in secular career exploration, but it is something worth keeping in mind as your children explore the program.  Needless to say, the curriculum outline is also totally secular, but it does encourage students to think about their goals for their whole life, not just their career.   Parents should be available to discuss their teen’s future from a Christian viewpoint.


Finally, I noticed that my children completed the inventories and then thought they were finished with the program.  This is not a problem with DISCOVER, but I think many young people would make this mistake and miss a lot of helpful information.  So if you enroll your children in this program, make sure they explore it thoroughly.  After carefully exploring the program to write this review, I’m going to encourage my children to spend more time with it and to print out any useful results.


Our Recommendations

videogives an overview of the online DISCOVER program, but it doesn’t do it justice.  Features of the program are listed here.  With this program, you get out of it what you put into it.  Those who explore DISCOVER thoroughly and use the curriculum will have a good idea as to what career fields would suit them and will know a lot about their chosen occupations.



Many young people waste years as well as thousands of dollars drifting through post-secondary education, uncertain of their career goals.  DISCOVER helps young people understand their interests and abilities, and suggests suitable occupations and college plans.  It gives detailed information on these occupations and so helps students decide which ones could work for them.  For a very reasonable cost, young people can gain knowledge, confidence, and purpose that could save them a lot of time and money.  Therefore, I highly recommend DISCOVER Online.


The program could also help homeschoolers plan a sensible high school program.  Most high schools ensure that students take the right courses at the right time to meet their goals, but many homeschooling parents don’t have this information.  Although such information can be found elsewhere, having it tied in to a career exploration program is very convenient.


An uncertain, drifting post-secondary student could also benefit greatly from the program, using the College Curriculum Guide rather than the high school one. 


For that matter, DISCOVER Online could benefit anyone planning a career change.


ACT Advantage’s EXPLORE and PLAN Sample Tests

EXPLORE and PLAN are two-hour assessments for grades 8-9 and grade 10 respectively.  Each test assesses the student’s skill in four key subject areas—English, math, reading, and science.  The kit we received contains sample tests, answers, and detailed instructions to calculate a student’s scores. It also includes a College Readiness Standards handbook.    


The PLAN test is meant to be taken in the fall of grade 10, but the EXPLORE test has different scoring options depending on whether the student is in the fall term of grade 8, the spring term of grade 8, or the fall term of grade 9.  Each individual test score is compared to students across the United States.  Thus, at the end of the assessment process, you will know how your student compares to others in English (as well as its two skill subsets, ‘Usage/Mechanics’ and ‘Rhetorical Skills’), in math (separated into algebra and geometry for PLAN only), in reading, and in science. 


Test results can be used to see whether or not a student is on track to succeed in college and to show his or her strengths and weaknesses.  The College Readiness Standards handbook includes teaching suggestions, depending on the child’s score.  Skills in each subject area are divided according to test scores, and each score range has a detailed list of topics to study to improve a student’s skill.  This 30 page document could be a practical guide to enhance a student’s learning and to strengthen any weak areas.


On two gloomy, rainy afternoons, my children sat down at the kitchen table with pencils, erasers, scrap paper, and a timer and worked their way through the tests.  The format was not difficult for them to understand, and they had no trouble taking the tests.  Determining their final score was a bit tedious for me, but the instructions were clear.  I had to adjust the results for my grade 7 student as well as those for my grade 11 student, but even so I was very pleased.  This was a good independent assessment of the children’s abilities and of the academic success of our homeschool. 


For Canadians, who rarely need to take the ACT, this testing program isn’t necessary.  Canadian tests of basic skills are available to homeschoolers instead of EXPLORE and PLAN, but I don’t think the Canadian tests come with a detailed list of teaching suggestions. I also don’t know how detailed the tests themselves are. 


If an American student is planning to write the ACT test in the future, taking these PLAN and EXPLORE sample tests could be helpful preparation. In any case, the College Readiness Standards booklet can help optimize his or her future studies.


If you wish confirmation that your children are doing well and that your homeschool program is working, some form of testing could be the answer. The teaching suggestions in the College Readiness Standards booklet could also be helpful, but I think any well-planned educational program, whether purchased or homemade, automatically includes most of them. 


Purchasing Information 

For more reviews, as well as information about the educational videos, please see the Homeschool Review Crew blog. 


DISCOVER Online the career planning program, costs $19.95 US for a three-month license and $24.95 US for a six-month license.  I highly recommend it.  If you get DISCOVER, look for the curriculum guide under Home/Support Materials/ Counselor’s Action Guide near the bottom of the page.  There’s also a College Curriculum Guide right below it. 


EXPLORE,  the grade 8 and 9 assessment in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, costs $22.95 US.


PLAN,  the grade 10 assessment in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, sells for $22.95 US.


Disclosure Policy:   As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free 3-month license to DISCOVER for my oldest children. This included the High School Curriculum Guide.   I requested and received a license for myself as well, to explore the program thoroughly for this review.  I also received a sample PLAN test and EXPLORE test with answer keys as well as the College Readiness Standards. 

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