What is the purpose of the PSAT?

This week many students are moaning about the upcoming PSAT’s. For those confused about what this test is, the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is a test designed to help students practice for the SAT. It is also used to determine eligibility for scholarships awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Please check out my October 4th 2009 blog post The Predictive Value of the PSAT to learn more about this exam. But to recap, the test is:

  • 2 hours long
  • Contains 3 sections – critical reading, math, grammar (called writing on the test, but the section just focuses on grammar)
  • Scores not reported to colleges
  • Used to award National Merit Scholarships – but only 3% of all students taking are eligible because one must score approximately a 2100 or higher!
  • Registration is usually through the schools
  • Thought to be a predictive indicator of future SAT scores (see my former blog post about this)

So if the scores are not sent to colleges and you are not one of the 3% eligible for a scholarship, then why take the PSAT? What is the purpose of this exam?  Well, there are a five main reasons:

1. It’s good to sit through a standardized test and experience what many students consider torture.   Think of it as building up your tolerance!

2. Use the test to recognize if you need to bring more water or candy, if you need to sleep more the night before, and if you need to take Tylenol to get through the test!

3. Assess whether you have a timing issue, meaning you can’t finish each section in the allotted time.

4. See if you need to engage in a future test prep course.

5. Evaluate whether the SAT is even for you!   If you HATE the PSAT then think about the alternative exam – the ACT.

Many schools now offer this test to sophomores as well as to juniors.  Personally, I think 10th grade is too soon to begin torturing students.  Students in sophomore year should still have an idyllic view of the world!  What many students consider torture (testing and test prep) should not begin until junior year!  Many sophomore students burn out if they begin prepping too early.  (Yes, beginning vocabulary study is never too early, but other than this – wait!)

So… begin sharpening those pencils and packing your goody bag.  Yet, please remember that the PSAT does NOT count for 97% percent of you and therefore you should not lose sleep over this exam.

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