Tomorrow is the PSAT for most students around the country. In my area that means 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students will be testing and seniors are given a late start day (the perfect time to work on applications!)
I want to address frequently asked questions about the PSAT so you can feel prepared and know what to expect.
Is the PSAT the new or old format of the SAT?
This year the PSAT will be the new format of the SAT—the format that won’t begin until March 2016. It is a good opportunity to see if you like the new test. Or, more realistically, it may convince some juniors to hurry up and take the SAT before March and push 9th and 10th graders to give more serious thought to the ACT. (If you missed it, my complaints about the new format SAT can be found here: Why You Shouldn’t Take the New Format SAT.)
I heard the PSAT is for scholarships; is this true?
Yes. Junior year ONLY students can earn National Merit Scholarship recognition based on their PSAT results. This is why you will see the PSAT referred to as the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.)
Do colleges see PSAT scores?
Colleges will not see PSAT scores in the admissions process. However, colleges often purchase mailing lists based on students’ scores. “Big U” might tell College Board they are looking for all students who score above “X”. This is how your mailbox fills with marketing material after the PSAT. While colleges may get names and addresses, they will not see individual students’ scores.
Is the PSAT just a practice SAT?
For most students it is. The PSAT can be a good tool to help students identify strengths and weaknesses prior to taking the SAT. There are problems, however:
- When students hear “just for practice” many don’t take the test seriously.
- PSAT results are delivered in late December or January, so students have forgotten the experience.
- Not all students take the time to review their results and learn from their mistakes.
If we already know my son is going to take the ACT instead of the SAT for college admission, does he need to take the PSAT?
No one needs to take the PSAT. Exceptionally high-scoring students will want to take the PSAT because of the National Merit Scholarship opportunities. If you already know your son tests higher on the ACT than the SAT, the PSAT is unnecessary. (I worked with some juniors over the summer who took the September ACT and are DONE with standardized testing because they reached their score goals. They don’t need the PSAT.)
From the perspective of a former high school counselor, your son may need to go ahead and take the PSAT at school on Wednesday because that’s what the entire campus will be doing. If the whole school is testing, your son should plan to test with his peers. It is just practice. In other words, it may be more trouble to try to explain your situation to your high school than it is worth. Your son can use it as an exercise in test taking and content review.
Our school has all students 8th – 11th grade take the PSAT. Is there any harm in taking the test multiple times?
Barring extreme situations of test anxiety, no there is no harm in taking the PSAT multiple times. In fact, it is a good idea for students to take the PSAT at least twice. 10th grade results are a great way to determine if you have a student with National Merit potential who should study for the PSAT as a junior.
Really, PSAT for 8th grade???!!! This seems inappropriate!
As a parent, I share the frustration with over-testing our kids. Personally, I think 10th and 11th grade is sufficient to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses and adequately prepare for National Merit possibilities.
To go along with the redesign of the SAT, College Board has redesigned the “PSAT Suite of Assessments.” Really it is a repackaging and rebranding of a test that didn’t sell as well—the ReadiStep. Now the ReadiStep is called the PSAT 8/9. It is the PSAT with training wheels (think slightly shorter, slightly easier, but essentially the same test.)
Inappropriate? Technically the PSAT 8/9 is designed for 8th and 9th grade students, so it isn’t entirely inappropriate. I have seen a number of private schools use the ReadiStep and ACT Explore as benchmarks for their students. In a private school setting where students are not inundated with standardized testing, these exams can be a good point of reference to compare testing achievement with peers nationwide. As a parent of a 9th grader who loses at least a dozen days of instruction to standardized testing in a given school year, I’m fed up. My 9th grader doesn’t need one more standardized test! (But she’ll be taking the PSAT tomorrow.)
The key to all successful testing is adequate preparation. Younger students may need to hear that the PSAT is just for practice and they don’t need to stress-out if they find questions they can’t answer. (Yes, there is a lot of algebra and not all students have the academic preparation necessary to answer.) Sophomores may need to know the PSAT this year is important because it allows your family to make solid plans for junior year testing. (SAT versus ACT and National Merit prospects can be decided by these results.) Finally, juniors need to know this is the one that counts for National Merit Scholarships and is the best indicator of how they may do on the spring 2016 SAT.
For more information on the PSAT: