Should You Take the PSAT Seriously?
It’s the beginning of sophomore year and you haven’t even begun to think about college yet. You know you want to go, and you know you’ll have to take an SAT (or three) before you apply. But does the PSAT even matter? It’s just a practice run. No big deal, right?
And, well, that’s not entirely incorrect. The PSAT does not play any part in your college applications, which absolutely lowers the stakes. But there are concrete benefits to treating the PSAT like a serious test, and a great PSAT score could pay off for years to come.
Technically, this test is called the PSAT/NMSQT, which is an abbreviation for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The last part of that title is important. If you do well enough on the PSAT, you will qualify as a semifinalist the National Merit Scholarship.
This scholarship is worth $2,500. If you think about it, there basically aren’t any other tests that you’re required to take in school that directly give you the chance of earning $2,500.
What score do you need to qualify? That varies state-by-state, so make sure to do some Googling in advance of your test if you’re interested in this scholarship. Recipients of the scholarship are generally awarded it early in their senior year.
The PSAT Really Is Great Practice
Even if you don’t qualify as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship, your PSAT score is still an incredibly valuable gauge of how prepared you are to take the SAT. That score will give you some sense of which colleges you want to apply to are safety schools, which are targets, and which are reaches.
But more importantly, your PSAT shows you how much you have to improve to feel confident about your overall application. With dedicated practice, you can improve your SAT score by at least 200 points. Use the PSAT as an opportunity to make a study plan for the SAT, and consider options including SAT prep workbooks, an SAT class, or an SAT tutor. The better idea you have the score you want to get, the more focused and motivated you’ll be while doing that prep work.
Perhaps the best part about the PSAT is that you get to experience the exact types of questions that you will encounter on the real SAT. You will probably have a pretty good sense that, for instance, you need to refresh your grammar skills or bone up on your percents. Did you find the reading passages dry or hard to understand? Now’s the time to start reading something challenging every day to get ready for whatever you might encounter on the test day that counts.
Should I Prepare for the PSAT?
If you are serious about the National Merit Scholarship, preparing a little bit for your PSATs certainly isn’t a bad idea. Preparing for the PSAT isn’t nearly as popular as preparing for the SAT, so there are way fewer materials out there. Likewise, none of the major test prep companies offer a PSAT curriculum and many tutors will just recommend that you go ahead and prepare for the SAT since that’s the one that actually counts for your college application.
The good news is that the College Board offers some PSAT prep materials, including two full PSAT practice tests. One of the simplest ways to improve at a test is to take it multiple times, so do yourself a favor and set aside time on two separate weekend mornings to sit down and take the PSAT. Review your answers and try to figure out your strengths and weaknesses after taking each one.
Feel free to use some prep materials for the SAT, but be aware that the PSAT is a slightly different and somewhat less difficult test. You will probably want to save all of those SAT prep materials for next year when you’re gearing up to take the real thing.
About the Author
Mike S. is a Senior SAT and ACT Tutor for MyGuru, a boutique provider of 1-1 tutoring and test prep with a core concept-led approach, meaning our objective is to help our students understand the fundamental concepts, not tips and tricks. All of our independently contracted tutors have many years of tutoring experience and impressive academic backgrounds. For more information on our SAT/ACT tutoring and test prep, visit us here. To read more articles, visit our blog.