College Corner: What is the PSAT?

Posted by College Corner on 10/24/12 9:53 AM

describe the imageExactly a week ago millions of sophomore and juniors took the PSAT.  The College Board and The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) administer this test. Juniors who score above a certain percentile are eligible for applying to the National Merit Scholarship Application Program.  While only the top couple percent are eligible for the scholarship, taking the test and even preparing for it can be a boon to further SAT preparation. 

As a long time SAT tutor, I have seen the pressure that some of my students put on themselves to prepare for the PSAT always a good jumpstart for subsequent preparation and high scores for the SAT. 

How the PSAT is like the SAT

Perhaps this is not a surprise, given that the PSAT mirrors the sections presented on the SAT.  With the exception that it is shorter and it lacks an essay section, the PSAT like the SAT has sections devoted to Math, Critical Reading and Writing Skills.  Just like on the SAT, the Critical Reading and the Writing Skills both possess questions also on the SAT.  On the PSAT Critical Reading there are reading comprehension passages with accompanying questions and sentence completion questions.  The Writing Skills has three question types: identifying sentence errors, improving sentences and improving paragraphs.  The Math sections are also similar although many would say slightly easier than the SAT. 

How the PSAT is different than the SAT

One slight difference in the scoring is that the PSAT drops the last ‘0’ on each of the section scores.  So, if a student got a 650 on the SAT, he/she would receive a 65 on the PSAT.  Scores on the SAT for each of the sections range from 200-800, and scores on each PSAT section go from 20-80.  The other differences as noted above are that the PSAT is a shorter exam and excludes an essay.  Most importantly, the PSAT does not replace the requisite need to send an ACT or SAT score to colleges that require these scores. 

The ‘Practice’ SAT

Because of the overall similarities of the two tests, during my high school years in the early 90’s, we would dub the PSAT as ‘the practice SAT*.  For those who had never studied for the SAT, let alone knew nothing about the test, taking the PSAT early in their junior year if not their sophomore year was a wake-up call.  All of a sudden, whether one was good at the test, mediocre at it, or performed below average, those who took the test had a baseline score that might be a reflection of this other test, the SAT, which might play an important role in the college they attended after high school.

Take-home Lesson – Start your SAT Preparation Now

While I think awareness has grown from when I was in high school, I think that it is important that any student, no matter at what test performance level, take the requisite steps as early as their sophomore year but definitely by their junior year to start doing some preparation for the SAT.  I would recommend taking a diagnostic test, grabbing the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide and if feasible getting a tutor if you feel like you could use anything from a boost to a more comprehensive preparation.  At the end of the day, start early.  You won’t eschew my advice.  I promise.

*The ‘P’ does not really stand for ‘practice’.

Tags: PSAT