standardized testing

By Sean Murphy, Curriculum Manager at Revolution Prep

About the PSAT

PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT and it is organized, in part, by the College Board, the same organization that runs the SAT. The PSAT is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). At its heart, the PSAT is a practice version of the SAT, so the two tests have many similarities. These similarities include a no-calculator math section and “rights-only scoring” (i.e. no guessing penalty). Even if you think your child might end up taking the ACT, the PSAT is valuable – by taking it now, they will have already had great exposure to a long standardized test, and can take a lot of their experience with them to the ACT.

Who takes the PSAT and why do they take it?

Students are registered for the PSAT through their schools, and almost all students take the PSAT during their junior year. Many schools also offer the PSAT to sophomores so that they can get a feel for the test.

Scores from the PSAT taken during a student’s junior year determine his or her eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship competition.

  • If a student scores in the 96th percentile nationally, he or she can receive “Commended” recognition.
  • If a student scores in the 99th percentile within his or her state, he or she can receive “Semifinalist” status, “Finalist” status, or can win a National Merit scholarship.
  • Scholarships are ~$2,500, per year, for each receiving student

Competition for National Merit scholarships is fierce. Of the 1.5 million juniors who take the PSAT, only a small number will get recognized for National Merit because of their scores. Even if a student does not have a score to qualify for National Merit status, the experience of taking a nearly three hour test and the data that can be analyzed from the results of the PSAT is very valuable when preparing for the SAT or the ACT.

Do PSAT results have any predictive power for the SAT and/or ACT?

Absolutely. PSAT results have predictive power for both the SAT and ACT.

For PSAT vs. SAT, beyond the fact that the test have similar content and a similar structure, the College Board purposely scales a student’s PSAT scores to serve as a direct predictor for that student’s SAT scores.

What this means that if a student score a 450 on the math section on the PSAT, then that student is projected to score a 450 on the math section of the SAT.

For PSAT vs. ACT, while the tests have some structural variances such as different scoring scales and a different number of answer choices for given questions, at their heart  the SAT, ACT, and PSAT (and many other standardized assessments) are all testing similar core academic content. These concepts include reading a text for understanding, approaching algebra questions, and understanding basic grammar rules. Thus, strengths and weaknesses revealed by results from the PSAT will likely be the same strengths and weaknesses that are demonstrated on the ACT, which is why the PSAT can be a powerful tool in preparing for the exam.

How can I prepare for the PSAT, SAT, or ACT?

To succeed on any standardized assessments, a student must first be strong in the core academic subjects. If a student cannot rewrite an algebraic equation or diagnose whether a comma is used correctly, that student will struggle to achieve his or her goal score.

Beyond knowing academic content, it is important for students to have experience with how these exams present the material in ways that are different from what they see in school. These differences include unique question formats, increased time crunches, and the need for robust mental endurance.

Proper preparation thus requires a combination of academic skill building and test-focused strategies. Only a combination of academic skill building and a review of how to effectively approach the challenges unique to the ACT, SAT, or any other standardized assessment will allow a student to achieve his or her maximum score.

Want to learn more? Download this guide to understanding the PSAT score report.

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Written by College Coach
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