Counting Down to the PSAT

The PSAT is next Wednesday, and for the majority of the 1.5 million students who take the test annually, the test will serve as helpful practice for when they take the SAT later in the school year. Some of those students will also need to pay more attention to the test in order to place into AP courses, depending on their school’s placement requirements. Finally, a smaller cohort of students will use their scores to gain additional scholarship opportunities through the National Merit Scholarship Program. Depending on your goal, your approach to the test next week will differ substantially.

Practice for the SAT

No matter what your score goals are, the PSAT is a very helpful assessment that you’ll want to take seriously. Just a few minutes shy of the real SAT, the PSAT can give you a very accurate prediction of how you would do on the longer test. You will get a feel for the no-calculator math section, the “great global conversation” passages in the reading section, and the charts and tables in the writing section. You will gain a better sense of which sections present pacing problems, as well as an awareness of math or grammar content that might catch you by surprise. With that knowledge, and your scores when they come out at the end of the year, you will be better prepared to decide either to take the SAT or switch tests and prepare for the ACT, since both are accepted at colleges without preference. Your PSAT scores can also give you insight into how competitive an applicant you are for your college list, which you will start creating later this year.

AP placement

For those PSAT-takers looking to place into AP courses next year, you may have already gotten some experience with this process if you took the PSAT 10 as a sophomore. In this case, you might want to do some preparation between now and next week, to ensure the score you will provide to your school represents your best. Download the two, free practice PSATs from the College Board website and devote time this weekend to working through some timed sections. You can score your test, go back and review your answer choices, and see if you can figure out any patterns within the data. Should you guess on the last few difficult math problems to save time for the low-to-mid level questions? Are there specific question types that you are consistently missing? Do you want to take a crack at annotating the reading passages in order to catch as much detail as possible? In addition to these strategies, you’ll want to check with your school to determine the AP qualifying policy and relevant cut-off scores for your desired classes.

National Merit

If you’re looking to place in the top one tenth of one percent (approximates by state) of students nationwide who are recognized as semifinalists, finalists, or winners of the scholarship program, you have your work cut out for you this upcoming week. Definitely take a practice PSAT to establish your baseline. If you aren’t satisfied with your initial score, use the SAT practice tests available online through the College Board to get additional practice. You’ll see a few higher concepts in math, and the reading and math sections are slightly longer, but some more intense practice will ensure your mastery of the material on your test day. Take a timed section, grade yourself, review your answers, determine patterns or areas for growth, and repeat until you feel ready. You can use the cutoff scores from this year as an approximation for next year’s cutoff; there’s no guarantee that they’ll be identical, but at least you’ll have an idea. Of course, you don’t want to feel completely drained on Wednesday, so make sure you get a good night’s sleep on Monday and Tuesday evening. Once you take the test, scores will be released later in the school year; log into your College Board account  to see how you fared.
The PSAT will be many things for many students on Wednesday – informing your college search, placing into AP courses, or proving NMS potential. Whatever your plans are, prepare accordingly and do your best!

For more information on the PSAT, visit the College Board’s website.

For more on the National Merit Competition, visit NMSC’s website.


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