All About the PSAT
As an enrollment specialist at Applerouth, I am often called upon to answer questions regarding the PSAT. Many families are confused and many ask the same questions: Why is my student taking the PSAT? Why is the PSAT important? Will colleges see my PSAT scores? How are my PSAT scores used in the college admissions process? Do I need to prep for the PSAT? The confusion is well-founded — what the PSAT will and can mean for your student varies greatly depending upon his or her grade level and standardized testing ability. Moreover, the “PSAT” label can refer to 3 different exams — the PSAT 8/9, the PSAT 10, and the PSAT/NMSQT. On October 11th, students across the country will take the PSAT/NMSQT both for practice and for scholarship opportunities. For most students the “Pre-SAT” is a free, no strings attached SAT practice run. But for the 15,000 juniors who are selected as National Merit finalists, a designation that could mean increased admission opportunities and scholarship dollars, the PSAT can be a game changer.
What is the PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT (hereafter referred to as the PSAT) is a slightly easier, slightly shorter version of its big brother, the SAT. Both examinations have a reading comprehension section and a grammar-based writing section that make up the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (EBRW for short). Additionally, both tests contain two math sections — a calculator section and non-calculator section. These sections make up the Math portion of your score. Your total score is the sum of your EBRW score and your Math score.
Potential score ranges mark an important distinction between the PSAT and SAT — a perfect score on the PSAT is a 1520, whereas a perfect score on the SAT is a 1600. Even though the ranges are different, the College Board has stated that these exams are graded on exactly the same curve. Therefore, the College Board asserts that if a student were to take the SAT and the PSAT on the same day, he or she would receive the exact same score on both. This is because the test writers are simply leaving off the most difficult questions that close the 80 point gap between the SAT and PSAT ranges. We find that, for the vast majority of students, this holds true — students who take SAT practice exams or official SAT examinations around the same time as their PSAT tend to have very consistent score results. That being said, if you are scoring close to a 1520 on the PSAT, there is a chance that you will do even better on the SAT, as there are 80 additional points available to you on the longer examination.
Why does the PSAT matter?
For the vast majority of students, the PSAT should be viewed as an excellent opportunity to practice for the real SATs that will be taken in junior and senior year. If you are taking the PSAT/NMSQT as a freshman or a sophomore, do not stress about this examination. In very rare cases will these scores be used for anything other than to provide you with a benchmark for your performance. There are some schools that use PSAT performance as benchmarks for class placement, but this is by far an exception, not a rule. If you have any questions as to whether this applies to you, check with your guidance counselor.
Sophomores and younger students should take their results with a grain of salt — the PSAT is designed for juniors, so they are too young to be taking this examination anyways! If you are discouraged by your scores, remember that you have another year of school to improve upon the skills that are going to be tested on the SAT. In particular, there may be math concepts on the examination that you simply have not yet covered in school. That is perfectly fine and to be expected. Use this opportunity to try out high stakes testing in a risk-free setting – these scores will not be provided to colleges, and may help you jumpstart your preparations for the college search. Because your PSAT scores are identical to SAT scores, you may find that you are already in range for a few schools you may be thinking about. For example, you’re already scoring at a 1250 on the PSAT, you will likely be in range for an out-of-state scholarship at Alabama next year when you take your real SATs.
If you are a Junior, then you may want to give the PSAT significantly more consideration. If your sophomore PSAT or recent SAT practice test results are above a 1380, then you may want to consider preparing heavily for the PSAT on October 11th. The NMSQT part of the PSAT name stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test. If your PSAT selection index is greater than the cut-off for your state in the year you test, then you may qualify to be a National Merit Commended Student or a National Merit Semi-finalist. Because these awards only apply to the top 50,000 students out of the 1.6+ million students who take this examination, students need to achieve extremely high scores in order to qualify. For more information on the National Merit Scholarship Programs, check out the 2017 PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide.
How to Prepare
If you are gearing up to take the PSAT on October 11th, Applerouth is here to help! We are hosting a series of free events during our PSAT Prep Rally, which is kicking off this week. If you are a junior, we strongly recommend signing up to take a full length practice PSAT examination so that you can familiarize yourself with the structure of the examination and get a sense of how you will score on the upcoming test. We have three upcoming “scrimmages” — full length PSAT practice tests taking place on September 17th and September 23rd. If you score north of a 1380, it may make sense for you to hunker down in the next few weeks to improve upon the topics you struggled with. If you score lower than a 1380, or are not yet a junior in high school, the practice test will help you know what to expect so that you can put your best foot forward on test date. In addition to private, one-on-one tutoring, we are also offering dedicated hour-long sessions on both the EBRW and Math sections in the weeks leading up to the examination. These sessions will go over major strategies and frequently tested content.