So how does the PSAT work?

If you read my previous post then you know my experience taking the PSAT and just in case you didn’t read it I’ll give you the short version: I was completely and totally ignorant. Unfortunately, my experience is probably more common than not.

If you’re like most people out there you probably think that the P in PSAT stands for practice.

And like most people you’d be wrong.

It stands for preliminary. The PSAT is so much more than a “practice” test. The test is actually called the PSAT/NMSQT or the Preliminary SAT National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Now you know why they just call it the PSAT.

Yes, as you probably already know the PSAT does provide you an opportunity to practice for the SAT. It allows you to get a feel for how these types of tests work and it allows you to see and review what areas you need to improve on before taking the SAT. Most people know all that, unfortunately that’s about all they know about the PSAT.

But you are different. You’re reading this and you’re taking responsibility for your education and your future.  So let me share with you what the PSAT is really all about.  Here goes.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is a standardized test put together by College Board, the same company that creates the SAT. As I stated earlier, it is a test designed to provide you with a chance to practice taking the SAT and to provide you with valuable feedback.

Length and Format

The PSAT is a lot like the SAT with a few small differences. It’s shorter than the SAT. The PSAT is 2 hours and 20 minutes whereas the SAT is a more daunting 3 hours and 45 minutes.

The PSAT is made up of three sections:

  1. Critical Reading – 2 Sections (25 minutes)
    1. Sentence completion
    2. Passage based reading
  2. Math – 2 Sections (25 minutes)
    1. Multiple choice
    2. Grid-ins or solving problems
  3. Writing – 1 Section (30 minutes)
    1. Identifying sentence errors
    2. Improving sentences
    3. Improving paragraphs

Logic

The PSAT is a logic based test. It is not content based. Learning how to take the test is extremely important. The test is set up to trick you. It’s important that you pay very close attention to wording and that you know exactly what the question is asking.  I’ll give some more tips on this in the future.

Registration

Unlike the SAT you cannot register for this test online. You need to register for the PSAT at your local high school. Register early to ensure that you get your spot. Most people only take the PSAT once but that isn’t necessarily the best idea. You can take the test 3 times, once per year until your junior year of high school. However, the only test that counts towards your entry into the National Merit Scholarship is your junior year test.

Cost

The cost for the PSAT for 2014 is $14.00. Some schools add additional costs in the form of administrative fees. If you are unable to afford taking the test you may be able to receive a fee waiver.

Benefits of the PSAT

Scholarships:

Here it is. I’m putting this one first, because I think it is the most important. College is expensive and you need to do everything you can to get your degree without taking on a life time of debt. Graduating college with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans can seriously impair your ability to win at life. It can effect when/if you start a family, where you live, what type of job you have, how much you have to work, etc. Don’t you think spending $14.00 a year and doing some studying and research on the PSAT in order to try and get some scholarship money is worth it.

NMSP image

Taking the PSAT your junior year of high school allows you to enter the competition for prestigious scholarships and to participate in recognition programs. Juniors who take the PSAT enter NMSC competitions. NMSC adds the scores of the critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills on the PSAT and uses that information as an initial screen of program entrants and to designate groups of students to be honored in the competitions.

               Designations include:
      • Commendable
      • Semi-Finalist
      • Finalist
      • Scholar

National Merit Scholars and Finalists often have a lot of full ride scholarship packages presented to them by multiple colleges and universities. Even Semi-Finalist may be able to get full ride scholarships presented to them by numerous universities. Scoring high on this test is important.

 Practice:

Of course the PSAT provides practice for taking the SAT later on. Taking it early allows you to receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses so that you know what areas you need to work on in the future.

Comparison:

Taking the PSAT allows you to see how your performance compares with other students who are applying to college.

Spam…um, I mean College Information:

Each time you take the PSAT you have the option of filling out a student search box which will allow colleges (specifically colleges who pay the College Board to be included in this group) to start contacting you with information about their programs. Check the box if you like but beware, you will be spammed.

 

Hopefully now you know a little bit more about the PSAT and why you need to take it seriously. Next we’ll dive into how you can improve your score on the PSAT to try for National Merit Scholar status. I’d love to hear from you. If you have any insight you’d like to share, personal experience with the PSAT, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.

 

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One thought on “So how does the PSAT work?

  1. […] the PSAT early and often to try for valuable […]

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