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PSAT: Underperformance and Next Steps

When the PSAT scores arrive, they initiate a series of emotional and logical responses. Often when PSAT scores don’t meet expectations, emotional responses can be robust and create stress for students and parents. Many households erupt in tears, frustration, slammed doors, and disbelief, which leaves little room for logical responses to emerge. Accordingly, parents can help by developing a plan to provide positive next steps to help channel the energy into a positive light. 


Step 1: Gather context

A significant first step is to take a page from medical playbooks: good prescriptions start with good diagnoses. The best source of information is the student, who can provide essential details when met with a non-anxious presence. Productive conversations open the door to all sorts of insights that not only help for better performance on standardized tests but more so about your student as a learner. Parents, remember that scores are not blood tests or genetic panels but a point of data from one day. Context is vital for understanding the bigger picture. Here are a few standard test day scenarios that may be part of that context:

  • Day of emotional conflicts: Breakups, fights with parents, and awkward peer/teacher interactions
  • Testing Environments: Group disruptions, proctor timing mistakes, and cheating classmates
  • Test Anxiety: Stuck on problems, panic attacks, rumination about a mistake
  • Lack of Sleep: Staying out too late or not being able to sleep in anticipation

Understanding any one of these can explain, at least in part, underperformance. However, standardized tests can also reveal something previously unseen.


Step 2: Dig Deeper

Scores that seem unexpected can offer insights. In the 25+ years of working with students, we’ve lost track of how many students whose PSAT scores provide indications of previously undiagnosed learning disabilities, including ADHD and anxiety. Knowing that a student got a particular score, ran short of time, or missed easy questions isn’t nearly as interesting as why. Getting to the bottom of it all is essential but can be complicated.


Step 3: Find a third party.

While teens can seem to disregard what their parents say or think, they care deeply about what you feel about them, making it tricky to have conversations about things that make them feel vulnerable or that puts your approval of them in peril. This dynamic is why the help of an adult who knows your kid but isn’t you can help. Tutors, counselors, and teachers don’t have the same complex relationships with your child. It is easier for an expert to be less anxious and often less controlling precisely because they aren’t as invested as loving parents are. There is tremendous value in having other adults supporting your child.


If the PSAT seems to have upended the academic path you and your kid thought they were on, take a breath and work through the steps. It is healthy, normal, and helpful to take action on Step 3. Achieving better performance and scores comes with dedicated and focused work. And, help. A student once asked us, “how many things can you do that you don’t get better at with practice?” Hence why our company name is PrepMatters. For over 25 years, we have helped DMV families overcome obstacles and find success, click here to schedule an appointment.

We pride ourselves on providing expert help to your child with a caring touch so that you can return to your most important job: parent. 

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