Does the PSAT Matter? Should You Study For It?

Does The PSAT Matter

While most high school students know about the SAT, the PSAT is a bit more elusive. Many schools administer the Preliminary SAT to sophomores and juniors early in the school year. Since colleges don’t use the PSAT to determine your admissions decision, most students take it without preparation as a sort of practice SAT. However, this exam holds more significance than you may think.

Improves Your Standardized Test Performance

Standardized tests have a specific format, unlike any other exam. Whether you take the SAT or an AP exam, you will find similarities in the testing process.

These exams have timed sections. Once the time has run out for that portion, you cannot go back and edit your work. To succeed under these conditions, you will need to manage your time wisely and perform well under pressure.

A common strategy is to skip over challenging questions and come back to them later. This technique often works because you do not lose points for not answering problems, ensuring you answer all that you know. However, you may run out of time and be unable to return to the skipped questions.

The PSAT follows a similar format to the SAT in terms of sections, including reading, writing, calculator math, and non-calculator math portions. Each has a time limit. The multiple-choice responses are designed to trick you, so you will have to effectively eliminate the incorrect options.

Many students face testing anxiety, which can negatively impact your score. Taking a similar test, like the PSAT, will expose you to a comparable environment. The PSAT can give you more confidence in your standardized testing abilities, thus improving your SAT score.

Remember that the SAT is longer than the PSAT and has an essay section. Also, scoring well on the PSAT does not mean you do not have to prepare for the SAT at all.

Indicates Future SAT Scores

The PSAT is a fantastic way to become familiar with the SAT’s content and format. It can teach you imperative test-taking strategies, such as time management and answer elimination. Taking the PSAT may reduce your test anxiety by giving you a sense of your SAT performance.

Your PSAT score often correlates to the SAT. Areas in which you perform poorly on the PSAT indicate the skills you will need to refine before taking the SAT. Your grades are not the best indicators because they generally do not put you under the same pressure and time constraints, and the content tested on in class may not encompass the standardized information.

The PSAT is scored from 320-1520, while the SAT goes from 400-1600. The SAT math section is more complicated than the PSAT as it includes an additional year of material. Since the SAT takes 15-65 more minutes (depending on the essay), students may feel more fatigued at the end.

An SAT score might be 50-100 points lower than the PSAT if one does not prepare for it. To compensate for this difference, you’ll need to study for the SAT, even if you scored highly on the PSAT.

Qualifies You For the National Merit Scholarship

Sophomores take the PSAT10, and juniors take the PSAT/NMSQT. NMSQT stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The National Merit Corporation uses PSAT scores to determine if students qualify as a National Merit Semifinalist.

Students who score in a fraction of the top 1% on the PSAT qualify as a semifinalist. About 16,000 students become semifinalists, and from there, 15,000 become finalists. Approximately half of the finalists become National Merit Scholars. National Merit Corporation awards the scholars $2,500.

Becoming a National Merit Finalist opens the door to a world of scholarship opportunities. Many colleges and universities offer partial- to full-tuition to qualifying students. However, the PSAT is not the only determinant of receiving this title.

Once you have gotten your PSAT scores back, you will know if you qualify as a semifinalist. From there, you will need to make your application. You submit your academic record, an essay, and a recommendation letter. Your SAT score affects the decision, and it must be comparable to your PSAT.

While most semifinalists become finalists, any discrepancies in your GPA, SAT, essay capabilities, and personal conduct can eliminate you from this spot.

How to Study For the PSAT

Scoring highly on the PSAT has many benefits, so now you may be wondering how to study for it. Below are several strategies to improve your score.

Take Practice Tests

To acclimate yourself to the time limits and format, you may want to take practice tests. These include similar questions and are available online. To represent the test accurately, ensure you only have a calculator, pencil, paper, and a timer present. Timing yourself will help with time management.

Some online resources include practice questions focused on your weakest areas. These problems will help you improve your skills without over-testing your strong suits. Be sure to check out our recommendations on the best PSAT study prep books on the market.

Get a Tutor

A PSAT tutor will test you on all the requirements and deliver personalized training to make you a well-rounded test taker. They can teach you strategies compatible with your learning style and offer practice materials that refine your skills. Even the brightest students can benefit from a tutor as they can micro analyze your talents to perfect them.

Read and Write More

If you struggle in the reading comprehension and writing sections, reading well-written books can teach you sentence structure, vocabulary, and understanding without additional work. A book that interests you will cause you to naturally find the story’s purpose, the characters’ motives, and various literary techniques.

Well-reviewed, classic novels often have study guides, summary notes, and practice questions online to help you with reading comprehension. However, any book should help with your reading skills.

Many websites offer prompts and contests to practice your writing skills. Reading exposes you to new words and phrases, as well as grammar and organization. Synthesizing this knowledge into a writing prompt will help you improve your essay. Public contests often have people review your writing, and they can provide tips and pointers to hone your techniques.

Review Old Material

Remember to save your homework! Redoing old problems, homework, and tests from your math classes can refresh your memory and provide much-needed practice. The main courses tested are Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. If you have not used one of these skills in a while, you may want to review it.

Even students in advanced classes like Calculus may struggle in the math section. While Calculus will often use algebraic techniques, it does not feature much geometry. Furthermore, many courses outside of algebra seldom use particular algebraic skills, so you will want to review your notes.

Final Thoughts

The PSAT matters. Not only will it prepare you for college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT, but it can also qualify you for tons of scholarships. It provides a marker for future scores, tells you what you need to work on, and acclimates you to the standardized testing environment. Being able to put “National Merit Finalist” on your college resume instantly increases your chances of getting into competitive schools and saves you tons of money on student loans.

Study strategies for the PSAT mirror those of the SAT, so you may as well start early. Maybe the SAT will seem like a breeze if you prepare well enough.

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Michelle Tsou

Contributor at ExamCave. Michelle graduated with a BA in English from Portland State University. She hopes to one day run her own test-prep organization.