This time of year finds us answering a lot of questions about the PSAT, from parents eager to arrange prep to others wondering if their teens should take the the October test at all. And, really, the question deserves consideration. Just about every high school has its juniors, and sometimes even sophomores, sit for the PSAT. Schools have good reason to administer these tests, thanks to the wealth of score data the College Board sends back. But is the test worth any single student’s time? Why take the PSAT?
The College Board describes many benefits to taking the PSAT, but only a couple of them seem persuasive. Consider each one:
Discover Your AP® Potential
BAD IDEA, at least if you are already a junior. By that time, qualified students with access are already enrolled in several AP classes. 10th graders who haven’t already tried AP European or World History might appreciate this benefit.
Connect with Colleges That Are Interested in You
BAD IDEA, unless you really want to hear more from the many hundreds of colleges out there eager to send you lavish marketing material. The higher you score on the PSAT, the more you’ll hear from schools you’ve never heard of. Then again, saying “Yes” to the Student Search Service does broaden your perspective on available institutions.
Free SAT® Practice
DECENT IDEA, since everything on the PSAT is on the SAT, but not vice versa. Remember that the “P” in PSAT stands for Preliminary, not Practice. For real SAT practice, attend a full-length proctored test like the ones we administer all year long. Taking the PSAT does, however, connect you with a variety of prep resources powered by Khan Academy, which some students find helpful.
Access to College Planning Resources
GOOD IDEA, as long as you are willing to take advantage of the many tools and reports the College Board delivers.
Enter Scholarship Competitions
GREAT IDEA, with two stipulations:
1. You will score VERY well on the test.
2. You are in 11th grade or will be skipping at least one year of high school.
The test we are talking about is officially called the PSAT/NMSQT, which designates it as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The test juniors take is the first step in the long National Merit Program process, which culminates in a good deal of recognition and a number of scholarships. Other programs, including scholarships offered by corporations and local organizations, use PSAT scores as part of their award criteria. Last but not least, nearly $180 million in combined annual awards will be allocated to low-income and minority test takers.
All in all, high school juniors lose very little but may have much to gain by sitting for the PSAT. However, don’t mistake this exam as a substitute for SAT prep. The best way to prepare for the PSAT, after all, is to prep for the fall SAT as well. And if you’re already prepping effectively for the SAT and are not a potential National Merit Scholarship, you may not get much out of the PSAT experience.