This week College Board started releasing scores from the October PSAT. Many families are looking at the results thinking “now what?”

Here are the five things I would suggest you do once you receive your PSAT results.

1. Learn How to Access Your College Board Account

Seems obvious, but accessing your scores is the first step. Most issues are related to password problems or forgetting which email you used when you set up your account. If you have difficulty accessing scores, now is the time to fix it. Don’t wait until you are up against a registration deadline or trying to send scores for admission.

Pro Tip: If you haven’t already, create a list of your college accounts. Be sure to note which email address you used for each. Start with College Board and ACT access. Add any applications, financial aid, or college accounts you may have created.

2. Evaluate Your Results

Often the first though that comes to mind is “good or bad?” But your PSAT results can tell you so much more if you go beyond this desire to make a blanket characterization of your scores.

When I evaluate results with a client, my big question is “Where did you lose points?” This is important in understanding why this client earned this particular score. (10 students could have the same PSAT score, but could all have achieved it for different reasons.)

While considering where points were lost, I want to examine:

  • reading vs writing
  • careless errors vs hard questions
  • questions missed due to lack of time vs actual errors
  • lack of knowledge in math vs a mistake in solving

Don’t waste your time on all the sub-scores, things like the science or social studies test scores, these won’t help you understand why you missed questions. Instead, go through your test, question by question, and see what you did. Would you miss that same question today?

If you want to consider the overall PSAT score, take a minute and read an article I wrote in 2017 discussing the two factors that make a test score “good.” This will help you understand what to look for and how to evaluate if you have done good enough. HERE. 

3. Start Comparing Your Scores to College Averages

Because PSAT scores are not used for admissions decisions, they can be a useful tool in determining early on if your scores are a good fit with the colleges and universities on your list.

Once you have your PSAT results, compare your numbers to the SAT averages at various colleges. Are you within their middle 50%? Above? Below?

If you aren’t sure where to start in comparing numbers, I have an article from September with a short video that will walk you through the process: https://www.collegeprepresults.com/are-my-sat-act-scores-good-enough/

Keep in mind that test scores are only part of what colleges consider when making admissions decisions. Just because your scores are above average doesn’t mean you will get in. But looking at the numbers can help you craft a well-balanced college list. This has also led many students to determine that they need extra work before they take the SAT or ACT.

4. Identify Testing Strengths and Weaknesses

You probably started this when you worked through #2 above (evaluating your results), but here you want to make a list of factors that help or hinder your test taking.

Here are some of the top issues for each section:

Reading

  • reading speed / pacing
  • comprehension / focus
  • vocabulary knowledge
  • data interpretation (charts & graphs questions)
  • paired questions (second one asks for the line numbers to prove the first answer)
  • particular passage content (fiction vs non-fiction; modern vs old)

Writing (multiple-choice grammar)

  • error vs big picture questions
  • punctuation rules
  • pacing (most students finish, but many work this section too quickly and miss details)
  • precise word choice / vocabulary

Math

  • calculator vs no-calculator
  • multiple-choice vs grid own answer
  • careless errors vs no idea how to solve
  • lack of time vs working too quickly
  • algebra vs geometry vs basic issues

Overall Issues

  • Pacing (too fast, not able to finish)
  • Focus
  • Nerves / anxiety or a racing mind

5. Make Plans for Future Testing

9th and 10th grade—

Freshman and sophomores have the benefit of time. They should focus on improving content knowledge and test taking skills.

This DOES NOT include taking a test prep class!

Instead, students can continue to learn the content taught in school and enhance any gaps with tutorials. In general, I recommend students in 9th and 10th grade practice:

  • Reading comprehension with a variety of challenging texts
  • Building a college-bound vocabulary
  • Learning grammar rules
  • Retaining and practicing skills in algebra and geometry
  • Developing proficiency with a graphing calculator

The Khan Academy tutorials are a good free resource for this type of work.

11th grade —

Junior year is THE year to take care of college admissions testing. Some students will have already taken the ACT or SAT this fall. If you haven’t, don’t worry, but do start making plans.

Here are the big decisions your PSAT results can help you make:

  1. Do you want to continue with the SAT or try the ACT?
  2. Do you want to review on your own or will you need / want some test prep?
  3. When will you take your next test?

SAT or ACT?

After identifying your testing strengths and weaknesses, you may find that one test is better for you than the other. Now is the time to decide where you will focus your attention going forward. (Yes, you can take both exams, but few students have the time or energy to do so.)

In very broad terms, the SAT appeals to students who

  • Score very well in math and are glad it is 50% of their overall score
  • Struggle with time and are unable to complete enough of the ACT reading or science sections to meet their score goals

In recent years, I’ve found more students prefer the ACT. The ACT appeals to students who

  • Like the fact that there are four areas averaged together for a composite score. This means strengths in some areas can help make up for a weakness in another.
  • Want math that is more straightforward (all multiple choice, less wordy, calculator allowed on all parts)

Since the SAT changed its format in 2016, I have found the ACT to be the more coachable exam. The only major downside to the ACT is time: the reading and science sections are difficult for some students to finish.

For more information on making this choice, read this article from 2016 (ignore the issue of practice material because that has resolved itself in the past four years): https://www.collegeprepresults.com/act-or-sat-which-test-is-better/

Self-Study or Test Prep

Again, the work you did in identifying your strengths and weaknesses will help here. Are you close to the scores you would want based on the colleges on your list? Do you have a couple weaknesses and a good number of strengths (or the other way around)? Are you the type of person who can (and will) teach yourself how to improve?

Students who are close to their score goals and have the personal accountability to practice on their own may be able to self-study for the ACT / SAT. I recommend getting the official study guides from ACT / College Board. These are available from Amazon or your local bookstore and contain 5-8 full-length practice tests. Don’t bother with any other guides; you want the official materials. (For the explanation of why: https://www.collegeprepresults.com/watch-out-for-fake-practice-tests-for-the-sat-act/)

Many students will not be able to adequately prep on their own. Reasons may include:

  • An aggressive score goal (more points than you can get on your own)
  • Inability to teach yourself certain subjects (the struggling math student likely does not have the knowledge or experience to self-study in this area of weakness)
  • Need for accountability (it takes a lot to make yourself sit down and practice week after week; it is a lot easier to do when someone else is there to hold you accountable.)
  • No idea where to start (it this was easy or obvious, everyone would have better scores!)

Warning: don’t wait until the last minute to decide you need help. It is ok to try the DIY method for the February ACT or March SAT. But if your results fall short of your goals, go ahead and sign up for a class or commit to that private tutoring. Don’t wait until the June exam is a week away because at that point, it is too late to start test prep.

When?

Ideally, juniors will finish with all tests by June.

Most students take their test of choice (ACT or SAT) two or three times. Colleges use a student’s highest scores; some use the highest result from a single date while others combine best sections from different exams to form a “superscore.”

You want to plan for two to three test dates before next fall. (Most students send college applications between August and November of their senior years.)

Look at the upcoming test dates and see which ones work for you. Try to avoid conflicts with major competitions, AP exams, performances, and other time-consuming extracurricular activities.

Here are the possible testing dates for juniors. (It is possible the SAT or ACT may be given on your campus another day. Additionally, all testing is pending external factors such as COVID or extreme weather conditions.)

ACT

  • February 6
  • April 17
  • June 12
  • July 17

SAT

  • March 13
  • May 8
  • June 5
  • August 28

How I Can Help

I help students with test prep and college applications. There are a few ways I might be able to assist you in moving forward with your test scores.

Consultation

Schedule an hour and I can help you analyze your scores. I can also suggest some areas for improvement and help outline a plan for self-study.

Schedule a Consultation

One Day Crash Course

If you want a little help, but don’t want to commit to a full course, my one-day Crash Course is for you. I cover the most essential content and strategies and leave students with two full-length tests so they can practice what they learned. (Early bird pricing through Jan 1!)

One Day ACT / SAT Crash Courses

Traditional 8 Session Prep Class

I will have classes this spring for the March SAT, April ACT, and June ACT. Classes meet Sunday afternoon / evenings and will start 8 weeks before the actual exam.

ACT / SAT Extended Courses (8 week)

Private Tutoring (individual or your small group)

If you have an aggressive score goal or want personalized help, private tutoring is the way to go. Yes, it is more expensive. But it is also where I see the most dramatic score improvement.

Private SAT – ACT Tutoring

Conclusion

Make the most out of your PSAT results. Take time to analyze your score, including strengths and weaknesses. Start comparing your results with the test scores at the colleges on your list. And make plans to take the ACT or SAT with some type of preparation before the summer.

This semester has flown by (and dragged at points, too.) But if you don’t plan to take the SAT or ACT, before you know it summer will be here and you will be behind.

Senior year is a lot better if you take care of testing as a junior.