The PSAT: what is it, and what should I do to get ready for it?

Tutor Ted here to share some intel with you about the high school-iest of all high school topics: the PSAT.

I’m going to answer a few questions for you, such as…

What is the PSAT?
What benefits you can earn from the PSAT?
Should I bother to take it?

Let’s go.

What is the PSAT?

That depends on whom you ask. The College Board will say that it’s a slightly shorter, free version of the SAT designed to prepare students for their upcoming SAT. The National Merit Scholarship people would say that it’s a chance for very talented students to earn some money towards their college tuition. On a grumpy day, I would say that it’s a marketing ploy designed to point students towards the SAT and away from the ACT.

Essentially, the PSAT is a shorter version of the SAT. It’s given at school in the middle of October—this year it’ll be administered on either Wednesday, October 16th or Saturday, October 20th. There is no cost for students to take it.

For students in 11th grade, the results of the test are the first step in the National Merit Scholarship competition. For 8th, 9th, and 10th graders, the test is simply a warm-up for future PSATs—the score has no value beyond the experience of taking the test.

What benefits can you earn from the PSAT?

The top 3% of students are named Commended Scholars. That’s an academic honor you can put on your college application. Students in the top 1% by state will be named National Merit Semifinalists. The top half of those students—the 0.5%—will be named National Merit Scholars. Those students get a one-time scholarship check for $2,500.

For 97% of students, the benefit is just the experience of having taken the PSAT.

Should I bother to take it?

You might get the sense that I’m going to say “no.” After all, it’s a test that rewards only 3% of those who take it and only pays 0.5% of students by state.

But I’m going to say “yes.” You should take it.

Here’s why. For starters, you might be one of the students who earns an honor. That’s pretty cool.

But even if you are in the 97%, taking the PSAT will give you a no-risk experience of taking a standardized test. These tests get easier as you become more experienced. You’ll be better at whatever test you take as a result of taking the PSAT.

Last piece of wisdom (if wisdom indeed is what I have to offer): don’t drink the anxiety Kool-Aid. If you’re near to that top 3%, say the top 5% of test takers, take a couple of practice tests. Know what’s on the test. You can even do some test prep to learn the stuff you don’t know. If you are NOT in that group, don’t get amped up and overanxious for the PSAT just because everyone else is. Of everything in this world to experience, group anxiety over the PSAT is one to avoid.

The PSAT is a test. It’s worth taking. If you’re really strong at these tests, you want to perform at your best. Otherwise, it’s a warm-up. Do your best. Get some sleep. Eat breakfast that day. See how the test makes you feel. But don’t lose any sleep over it, OK?

If you DO want to study for the PSAT, I’ve got some good news: you can use our SAT/PSAT course for a month for free. Just go to this link right here and sign up using the promo code PSATPREP. That’ll get you a first month for the course at no cost. Just remember that after a month the course will charge you, so if you like it, stick around, and if not, cancel it. It’s all good. 🙂


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