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PSAT – What is it, and Why is it Important?
Most people have at least heard of the PSAT, but many don’t know exactly what it is. Is this just a workout SAT? Do colleges review PSAT scores? Why is the PSAT even important, if at all? How is the PSAT related to the SAT? The purpose of this article is to shed light on what the PSAT is, how it differs from the SAT, and why it is important to take it as seriously as the SAT.
The PSAT and SAT are similar exams published by the College Board that are designed to test a student’s ability to think critically. Many think of the PSAT as a “baby” SAT, which is actually a pretty accurate description. The main differences are:
- Length. The SAT consists of ten sections and lasts nearly four hours (3 hrs 45 mins); the PSAT has five sections and lasts just over two hours (2 hrs 10 mins).
- Content. Both exams test the same subjects: writing, critical reading, and math, but the PSAT writing section does not include an essay portion and the PSAT math section does not cover Algebra 2 concepts.
- Rating. The maximum achievable score on the SAT is 2400, and each domain is worth 800 points. The maximum PSAT score is 240, with each area worth 80 points.
- Test dates. The SAT is offered seven times a year; the PSAT is offered once a year, usually the third week of October. However, there may be more than one test date during that week.
- Importance. Both exams are important stepping stones along the college admissions journey. Most people are already very familiar with the direct role the SAT plays in the college application process, but fewer clearly understand the importance of the PSAT. Many push the PSAT to the side, thinking, “it’s just a practice SAT” or “it doesn’t really count for college” — huge error:
The National Merit Scholarship
The PSAT is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT). As the name suggests, students who perform well on the PSAT may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Awarded to 2,500 students across the United States each year, the National Merit Scholarship is a great honor that can also expand a student’s educational opportunities. Simply being named a National Merit Scholar Finalist or Semi-Finalist can benefit a student. Many schools actively reach out to these students through special programs and scholarships, not only because it is an indicator of a student’s academic prowess, but also because these schools stand to gain in the rankings. if students choose to attend.
“But a lot of people get perfect PSAT scores, so how can my son/daughter compete even if he/she qualifies?” you might ask. A good PSAT score is just one qualification requirement – the proverbial foot in the door. A true National Merit Scholar must have a full set of accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and other qualities to propel themselves the rest of the way.
Although only juniors can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, students can also take the PSAT in the second year. Taking it in second grade (or even earlier, if mom insists), has two benefits:
- Since the SAT and the PSAT are so similar, it is reasonable to say that a student’s performance on the PSAT indicates how well they will do on the SAT. Taking the PSAT early will help students and parents identify weaknesses, assess the level of preparation needed, and decide when to start preparing for the SAT. And since both tests are written by the same people, if a student finds that he or she just doesn’t answer the College Board questions well, there’s still plenty of time to start looking into the ACT at the square.
- It is important to keep in mind that students only have one chance to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Unlike the SAT, if a student performs poorly on the PSAT, that’s it. There are no second chances. It’s a good idea for students to take the test in their second year to see how close their scores are to the cutoff and, again, decide on a test prep course of action.
Two trials, one stone
The SAT and PSAT are both extremely important tests in slightly different ways. Fortunately for students and parents, the two are very similar. A student who is prepared for the PSAT will also be prepared for the SAT. Get ready early; practice regularly; and easily kill the two Goliaths of the standardized tests. Even if a student is considering taking the ACT, there are many principles to test preparation that apply to any test, at any age, at any time.
It’s easy to overlook the PSAT in the hurricane of information surrounding the college admissions process, so be sure to keep an eye out for this small but hugely important test and nail it before it does. pass and disappear in the storm.
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