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The PSAT: To prep or not to prep

August 7, 2012
Ned Johnson

 

It's still summer, but as the fall approaches, we hear many questions regarding the PSAT. Of course, individual situations vary, but here are some general dos and don'ts to consider. Want more?  Mark your calendars for the "Planning Your Testing Calendar" seminar in late August (RSVP here).
 
DO take it seriously.
Yes, the “P” stands for preliminary, but that doesn’t mean you should blow off this test. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, bring your approved calculator, pace yourself during the test, and don’t give up if you get fatigued or frustrated.
 
There are several reasons you should give the PSAT your best shot even if you don’t intend to compete for a National Merit or National Achievement scholarship. Your PSAT score will provide a baseline that will help you decide when and how to prep for the SAT or even whether another test, such as the ACT, might be a better option for you. Test-taking is about more than your ability to answer questions correctly. Every time you sit for a standardized test will help you improve your performance on the next one: You’ll learn what you need to do in order to cope with or prevent unanticipated obstacles and distractions, such as that runny nose sitting next to you or a negligent proctor.
 
DON’T take it too seriously.
Nerves won’t help you improve your performance. Stay calm! Remember that colleges won’t see your PSAT scores, so you can take advantage of this opportunity to practice good test-taking strategies in a very real, but less stressful, testing environment.
 
DO take a practice test!
The more familiar you are with the PSAT, the more accurately your scores will reflect your potential. You can pick up a practice booklet from school or take a practice test at PrepMatters. You can also find sample questions at www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/psat/prep.html.
 
DON’T guess blindly.
Trying to answer every question may ultimately sabotage your scores since you lose a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. If you cannot eliminate any answer choices, your odds of guessing the correct answer aren’t great. If you can eliminate at least two answer choices, however, you have greatly improved your odds of nabbing that extra point, so making educated guesses can pay off.
 
DO consider more extensive preparation.
Competition for National Merit recognition is stiff. If you want to ‘go for gold,’ ask us how you can brush up on skills and learn specific strategies that will help you achieve your best scores.
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