You might have noticed that the PSAT that usually happens in the fall didn’t happen this year. As of now, the rescheduled date is January 26, though actually hosting the test remains at the discretion of your school. If you’ve already been notified about the test happening, that’s great! If not, PrepMatters is hosting a live, virtually proctored PSAT that you can take from the comfort of your own home, using an actual College Board PSAT. You’re welcome to join!
So, that’s the how of taking the test, but why might you want to make time in your busy sophomore schedule to take it? There are several reasons you should give the PSAT your best shot, even if you don’t intend to compete for a National Merit scholarship next year.
- Your PSAT score can provide a baseline score to help you decide how and when to prep for the SAT or even whether the ACT might be a better option for you. The PSAT is pretty much the SAT with 15 fewer questions in 15 fewer minutes, so how you do on the PSAT is a good predictor of how you’d have done on an SAT. Although it’s only sophomore year, you’ll likely want to start thinking about the SAT vs. ACT choice this summer, so having a PSAT score in the bag is a helpful first step.
- Success on standardized tests is about more than your ability to answer questions correctly — it’s also about your ability to manage the stress of the situation and stay focused over the course of a three-hour exam. 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 prevent or cope with unanticipated obstacles and distractions.
- The PSAT is also unique among these tests in that you get all the feedback: your score report, the answers and explanations to every question on the test, and even the test booklet you used on test day. When PSAT scores are posted, you’ll be able to understand not only what you got right and wrong but how you got it right and wrong. That’s exactly what you need to know to learn from your mistakes and improve your score on a test that actually counts.
Keep in mind, however, that the PSAT doesn’t really “count” for anything. Sure, it’s the qualifying test for a National Merit Scholarship when you’re a junior, but that — by design — affects less than 1% of test-takers. Colleges never see your PSAT scores. Never. You can’t send them even if you try. So the last thing you should do is bomb a test in a class because you were busy preparing for or worrying about the PSAT. That’s not a good trade. You should be thoughtful when you sit down to take the PSAT, but it shouldn’t be too stressful. It’s just not that important in the overall scheme of things.
And some tips from your friendly, neighborhood SAT tutor.
All that being said, if you’ve got some time to kill one night and want to set yourself up to succeed on the PSAT, that’s great. You might already have a practice test that you got in school. Check that out. If you’ve lost it, don’t worry, you can download some more from the College Board website.
Working through a practice test beforehand will help ensure that your scores say more about your abilities and less about your unfamiliarity with the test. As you do so, consider these big-picture strategies:
- Reading: Read the passage first. Don’t skim it; actually read it as if you were going to be tested on the material, because, you know, you are. Read each question carefully and then go back to the test for evidence. You can only find the right answer choice after you’ve found the answer in the text. I promise, they’re all in there. Think of this as the world’s worst game of Where’s Waldo.
- Writing: Other than your name, you don’t write much of anything on this test. This should really be called the grammar section. Again, be sure to read the whole passage, answering questions as you go only after you’ve gotten to the end of the sentence the question asks about. You might want to mumble to yourself as you read. It’ll help sharpen your ear for what sounds right and what wrong. If a question does have directions, follow them like a robot — there’s no such thing as too literal or too obvious. And all things being equal, take the simplest and shortest answer.
- Math: The questions here won’t feel much like math at school. Math in school is supposed to teach you something. These questions aren’t designed to teach you anything. They’re actually designed to trick you. So read each question slowly and carefully, write down all your work, and make sure you answer the right question. Use your pencil and calculator well and don’t rush too much at the outset. Questions get harder as you go, so making hasty errors in the beginning only to stare at hard problems you can’t figure out is not the best way to maximize your score. The easiest and hardest questions on the test are each worth one point. So collect all the points you can, focusing on the problems you know how to do.
Best of luck to you on the upcoming PSAT. Stay cool, make good decisions, and start out your standardized testing on the right foot!