PSAT scores are being released this week around the country, leaving many parents wondering, “What does the PSAT mean for my teen?”
The PSAT is a test given in high schools every year in October, typically to sophomores and juniors.
And although PSAT scores aren’t considered for direct college admissions decisions like the SAT or ACT are, the ways in which the PSAT exam and its score report are used can mean better opportunities for admissions for your teenager later on.
Read on to understand why PSAT exams matter and how you can help guide your own teen to use them best for college admissions.
1| Practicing for the SAT
The PSAT stands for “Preliminary SAT.” It’s almost identical to the SAT with a couple of differences: it’s 15 min shorter and there’s no written essay component. Otherwise, the structure and content of both exams are the same.
Starting as early as sophomore year, this makes the PSAT a valuable practice tool for the SAT exam, which many students will take later on in their junior year.
Taking the PSAT in a real testing environment will give your teen a good sense of what it’s like to take a timed test in an official testing room. Most students tend to have a certain amount of testing anxiety for long, timed exams like this, and so the experience and understanding of what it “feels like” to take the PSAT can help alleviate some of that nervousness later on.
Then, when they’re released, PSAT score reports give students crucial feedback about how they can improve in order to score higher on the junior PSAT exam (for sophomores) and the SAT exam (for juniors):
- PSAT Total Scores and Section Scores show how students are performing currently within each section and overall on the test.
- Percentile Ranks show how students perform in comparison with other students in the same grade level.
- College & Career Readiness Benchmarks provide insight into students’ readiness for college-level academic work associated with each section.
Your teen should use the information gained on the PSAT score report as a guide to determine where improvements can be made.
2| Determining Whether to Prepare for SAT or ACT
All colleges and universities in the U.S. will accept either SAT or ACT score reports to determine a student’s eligibility for admissions.* So all students should know which of these exams they’re more dominant with in order to focus on studying for Just. That. One.
Your teenager’s junior year PSAT score is an excellent indicator of how she’d perform on the SAT exam. After receiving the PSAT score report, I recommend that your teen take a practice ACT exam to compare the two overall scores. Download this PDF with a full, free ACT practice exam booklet and scoring instructions.
Once you have both the PSAT score report and ACT practice test scores, you can use this comparison chart from Compass Education Group to determine which exam your teen performs better on:
If it turns out that your teen’s score comparison falls within the gray “Judgement Call” section of the chart, ask her how she felt when she took each exam. Was one more comfortable for her than the other?
Her comfort level with each exam may be a good indicator of which to prepare for.
3| Free Money and Better College Admissions Chances
That got your attention, right?
The PSAT is administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or NMSC. Juniors who have high enough scores can be in the running for the National Merit Scholarship. (Sophomores are not eligible for this.)
Each year, 1.6 million juniors take the PSAT exam. The NMSC recognizes only 50,000 top-scoring students as “commended scholars” from that group. Of those, about 34,000 are recognized as “commitment scholars.” Earning a top spot is a terrific honor and award for students to list on college applications. Although these groups don’t earn money for their top scores, they do earn significant bragging rights.
The top 16,000 students will then be recognized as National Merit semifinalists. Those who complete an application will be notified at the beginning of their senior year about whether or not they made the cut to become finalists. (About half of them will.)
Interestingly, the scholarships these finalists receive are disappointingly small, coming in at just $2,500.
BUT…the big money comes from the fact that colleges look at semifinalists and finalists as extremely desirable students for admissions. Many schools will lure these students to their campuses with large scholarship offers. Some schools will even offer students a 4-year full ride scholarship to attend!
Although the PSAT isn’t used for direct admissions to colleges, there’s no denying that it’s a valuable tool to get students on the right track for that. I’d love to hear how your teen is using the PSAT score report! Please post in the comments below.
*Some colleges are “test optional” and may not require an SAT or ACT exam scores to be reported at all. See FairTest for a list of those schools.