Category Archives: Testing

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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The PSAT: A Cautionary Tale

Why You Need to Take the PSAT Seriously

Here I go. I’m about to dive into one of those “when I was your age” speeches.Test

As a side note I just turned 30 last month so I’m now officially old by most teenagers’ standards. Being old comes with its perks though, one of which is that I can now give both the “back in my day” and the “when I was your age” speeches. So at least I’ve got that going for me…

But like I was saying, back when I was a freshman in high school I remember my guidance counselor coming into my homeroom class to talk to us one day.  Now when the guidance counselor came to homeroom it almost always meant one of two things.  It either meant that we were going to be having a captivating discussion on self-esteem, self-respect, or bullying; or it meant that we were getting out of our scheduled class for some kind of state standardized/mandated test.

This time it was the latter.

This time she came to tell our class about a practice test we all had to take, the PSAT. The practice SAT, also known as the “we get to go sit in the school library and take a test that doesn’t mean anything, but gets us out of P.E. class” test.

She mentioned something about the test being a great opportunity for us to practice our test-taking strategies so that someday if we take the real SAT for college admission we’ll be more prepared.

First of all, test-taking strategies; I didn’t even know what that meant. As a freshman the only test taking strategy I had ever heard of was guessing “C” on multiple choice tests when you don’t know what the answer is.

Next, she promised us that if we’d just take it this one time we’d be done with it and we wouldn’t have to worry about taking another test like it until our junior or senior year when we would take the real SAT.

Needless to say, I didn’t give the PSAT much thought. I was usually pretty good at tests so I wasn’t worried.  I figured that when the time came to take the SAT I’d be just fine. And anyways, it was my freshman year; how was I supposed to remember what I learned during a practice test when I wouldn’t even take the real test till my junior or senior year?

I was prodded along with the other students into the library; I sat in my seat and I got to it. I figured that if I hurried up and finished this useless test early then I would have lots of time to doodle on the scrap paper that I brought with me.

I don’t remember a single thing about the test. I don’t remember if it was easy or hard. I don’t remember what types of questions were on it. It’s as if the Men in Black came and Will Smith personally memory swiped my brain immediately after I finished filling in the last bubble.

Maybe Will Smith did a memory swipe on me, maybe not. In all reality, I’m guessing that the real reason I don’t remember much about it is because I didn’t care. It didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t see any reason to put any effort into the test.

By the way, the one thing I do remember is getting done early and drawing a pretty sweet picture of the school librarian as an evil cyborg.  It was awesome.

Take Responsibility

It wasn’t until long after high school that I finally realized how dumb I was. Basically, it all came down to taking personal responsibility. I didn’t take responsibility for my own education. If someone didn’t give me a compelling argument for why I should do something I didn’t do it. In high school I needed to be persuaded to make an effort and if I couldn’t see the immediate and direct benefit of something I simply didn’t participate in that thing; whatever it was.

The PSAT was no exception.

My guidance counselor didn’t adequately show me the benefits of taking the PSAT seriously, so I didn’t. She didn’t tell me that I could get a full ride scholarship based on the results of this “practice” test. She didn’t tell me I could take the test up to three times to try and get that full ride scholarship. She didn’t tell me that high scores on this test would open doors to almost any university. She didn’t tell me the results of this test could change my future in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

When I first found about the importance of that test years later I was a little irked. Well, more than a little. I was ticked. I immediately tried to blame her for my lack of knowledge (and my massive student loans).

But it’s not her fault.

She may have done a lousy job sharing the importance of test, but in all fairness I didn’t ask any questions about it either. I didn’t research it myself. I could have gone online and learned about the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship. I could have done a lot of things, but I didn’t. As a freshman in high school I thought I didn’t need to worry about college or life after high school. I still believed that it was everyone else’s responsibility to lead me into a bright and successful future.

Shame on me.

The PSAT is NOT a Practice Test

If I had done a little research I would have learned that the PSAT was not a practice test. The “P” didn’t even stand for practice. It stood for preliminary. I would have learned that the test was logic based not content based and that if you spend a little bit of time learning how the questions are formatted you can improve your score dramatically.

In my next post I’m going to share with you the nuts and bolts of the PSAT. We are going to talk about why this test can be nearly as important as the SAT. I’m going to share with you all those things I wish I would have been told about this test when I was a freshman in high school. It’s exciting stuff and I’m eager to get into it. I really hope that you’ll benefit from what we’ll be going over during the next few posts. Wisdom is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. Learn from my mistakes I’m laying them out there freely as a caution for you.

Until next time.

 

 

 

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Are Standardized Tests Necessary for College Acceptance?

Hammond Quote

Standardized Tests; nobody likes them but we (and by “we” I of course mean they, them, the powers that be) can’t seem to get enough of them.  We’re addicted to them.  From elementary school on we’re teaching kids how to become expert test takers, a skill that becomes nearly useless the minute they leave the school. 

I’m an optimist though, so I’m going to assume most people are smart enough to realize that tests like the SAT and ACT only measure a tiny fraction of what is gained through an education. These tests show a very narrow view of the student. They fall tragically short of how the real world measures success. Real life solutions are not presented with options A, B, C, or D.  Outside of the classroom, critical thinking is king, multiple choice answers simply don’t exist.

Are the SAT and ACT Really Necessary?

Despite all the gloom surrounding standardized tests I’m holding out hope. I recently read this article about the SAT and ACT. Personally, I like the idea of not judging a student based on their 4 hour performance on a Saturday morning. Hard work, creativity, problem solving, commitment, ingenuity, these are the things that can make great students, but get lost on standardized tests.

As of now, you still need to take them, but maybe someday we’ll move past all that. There are currently around 800 colleges that leave the SAT and ACT test submission as optional. Those colleges want more than a standardized test scores to determine what kind of student you are. Results of a recent study showed that students who did not submit SAT and ACT test results to colleges performed just as well as those who did.

Imagine…

Imagine a world where you actually had to be creative and find new ways to demonstrate your abilities to gain acceptance into college. Maybe instead of SAT scores you could show the admission team a successful business you started. Maybe instead of ACT scores you could show them a portfolio of web based projects you’ve worked on. Or perhaps an engineering student could show a construction project he or she designed and completed. Maybe instead of a score on one test you show them a pattern of hard work and commitment to your intended major.

Just a thought.

What do you think? What experiences have you had with these types of tests? How do you think a person should be judged for acceptance into a college program?

Share your thoughts.

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ACT: Two Dates Left

Juniors and seniors have options when it comes to college admission tests. Some students take the SAT, some the ACT, some take both.  The ACT is a test that measures what a student has learned. It has 5 components: English, math, reading, science, and an optional writing test.

Your ACT score is one of the major criteria that admissions officers will be looking at when they make the decision whether or not to accept you. If you take the test early you’ll have plenty of time to retake it if you need to. Don’t push the ACT off to the last minute.

April 12th  is the next available test date for the ACT.  The registration deadline for that test is March 7th.

June 14th is the last test date available for seniors. The registration deadline for that test is May 9th. 

For more information about the ACT and to register online for an upcoming test visit: http://www.actstudent.org/regist/

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SAT: Two Dates Left

If you’re a junior or a senior planning on going to college then you probably already know the importance of a good SAT score.  Your SAT score is one of the main criteria that admissions officers will be looking at. Your SAT score lets them know what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge.

It’s a good idea to take the SAT during your junior year of high school.  Taking it your junior year leaves you with enough time to retake it your senior year if you find that you need to raise your scores.  If you’re already a senior and haven’t taken the test yet, you still have 2 more test dates available to you.

March 8th is the next test date. The registration deadline for that date is Feb 7th.

May 3rd is the last test date available to seniors this year. The registration deadline for that date is April 4th.

For more information about the SAT and to register online for an upcoming test visit: http://sat.collegeboard.org/login?applicationId=115&destinationpage=https://nsat.collegeboard.org/satweb/login.jsp&view=NSAT

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SAT or ACT: Which Test Should I Take?

It’s that time of the year. Fall has finally come. School is in full swing and it’s time to get to work planning your life after graduation. If you’ve decided that going to college after high school is going to be a part of your plan, then you need to consider which college admission exam to take. The two big ones are the SAT and the ACT.

What are the SAT and ACT?

The SAT and ACT are nationally administered standardized tests. These tests are designed to help colleges evaluate potential students. Your scores on these tests are often a prerequisite for college acceptance.

Which test do I need to take?

Most colleges accept either test’s scores but it is always important to check with the colleges you are applying for to make sure of their specific requirements. You can typically find this on their website under admission requirements.

Which should I choose?

If after looking up the requirements of your potential colleges you find that you have the option of taking either exam, then the choice is yours. There are a lot of differences between the two exams and the choice is mostly a matter of preference.  The SAT is more of an aptitude test whereas the ACT is an achievement based test. Here are some specifics about each test to help you make a more informed decision.


The SAT

As I mentioned above, the SAT is an aptitude test. It measures reasoning and vocabulary much more heavily than the ACT.

The Content:

The SAT has three major components which include: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and Writing.  It is then broken down into 10 smaller sections which require you to rotate back and forth between math, writing, and reading. If you choose to take this exam you have to be comfortable with switching between content a lot. This exam also has a lot of reading comprehension and sentence completion, so if you enjoy vocabulary and language is your thing then this test might be your first choice.

Scoring:

The SAT also scores differently than the ACT.  The SAT has no room for luck. That’s right, no guessing; ¼ of a point is subtracted from your raw score for each wrong answer. Colleges will look at the results from each individual section with the SAT.

Time:

The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes.

 


The ACT

The ACT measures what you have learned in school. It focuses more on content and what you know in specific subjects.

The Content:

The ACT has five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing. The writing section of this test is optional but may be required by the colleges you are applying to, so make sure you find out before skipping it! This exam moves through the five sections without jumping around. It also focuses on more advanced mathematical concepts than the SAT (think basic trigonometry). The ACT is unique in that has a science section which requires reasoning skills and the ability to interpret data.

Scoring:

The ACT has no penalty for guessing and only scores the questions you answer correctly. It also has a composite score which shows potential colleges how your combined scores measured up against others. With ACT tests, colleges are more concerned with your overall score and less with how you did in a specific section.

Time:

The ACT takes 3 hours and 25 minutes.


Remember:  

Don’t put off taking your test. Sometimes life happens and you get sick, nervous, or have family issues and you tank your test. You need to leave yourself enough time to get the scores back look at them and decide if you need to take the test again. Charles Baudelaire says it best “In putting off what one has to do, one runs the risk of never being able to do it.”  Don’t procrastinate.

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about the SAT or ACT I’d love to hear from you.

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