How To Use PSAT Scores

Juniors Your PSAT scores will not be sent to colleges or used for admissions purposes, so use your scores to identify strengths and weaknesses prior to taking the SAT this spring. Sophomores You want to prepare for next year’s PSAT, especially if your current score is over 170 because with practice, you may be able to qualify for National Merit recognition in your state. Below are the most common areas for improvement:

  1. Reading.  50% of your PSAT reading is based on knowledge of college-bound vocabulary.  You don’t need to study the dictionary, but focusing on frequently used words will help.  (I offer a weekly vocabulary program because there is such a need for vocabulary improvement even among top students from the best schools.
  2. Too Many Wrong Answers.  Unlike school, answering 100% of the questions on the PSAT and SAT can hurt you.  Wrong answers subtract points from your score, so you want to find the right balance between answering questions correctly and leaving the impossible questions blank.
  3. Math.  PSAT math is different from math tests at school.  Review your test and see if you are able to solve more questions correctly.  Practicing with questions, such as the SAT Question of the Day from College Board, can help make SAT-style questions more familiar.
  4. Not Enough Time.  If you ran out of time and left a considerable number of questions blank, you can benefit from taking practice tests and familiarizing yourself with the exam.  Keep in mind, unless you are attempting to score 650 or above (65 on the PSAT) in a section, part of your SAT strategy will be leaving some questions blank.
  5. Writing.  PSAT Writing is 100% multiple-choice grammar.  If your score is lower than you’d like, try additional practice and a review of basic grammar.  (Hint:  on the PSAT / SAT you can’t rely on how a sentence sounds.  They create errors that “sound good” and correct sentences that sound terrible.)
Finally, use your PSAT results to set your expectations and future goals.  If you are not a great test-taker, you probably aren’t shocked by less than perfect results.  Try to match your PSAT scores to colleges that interest you and see how much you may need to improve. Next time:  What is a “good” score?]]>

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