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Should You Take the PSAT?

When it comes to standardized tests, the PSAT is often overlooked as an “unnecessary step” in the college entrance process. School guidance counselors steer students toward the SAT and ACT; many teachers mention it in their 6th and 7th grade classrooms. This leaves students and parents alike wondering whether they should even bother taking the PSAT. This article explains the purpose of the PSAT test itself and lists four (4) reasons students should take the PSAT and the benefits of doing so.

What is the PSAT test, anyway?

First, PSAT stands for “Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test”. In some places, you may see it paired with the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, as in “PSAT/ NMSQT”. The acronym describes its purpose: to test a student’s readiness to take the SAT, to serve as a practice test for the SAT, and to determine student’s eligibility for National Merit Scholarships. So, contrary to popular belief, PSAT scores DO matter if you want to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship!

Many students and their families don’t know that National Merit Scholarships are awarded two years in advance. For example, the 2014 scholarship winners will be determined based on their PSAT scores from 2012. If you are thinking you might apply for one of these scholarships, sign up for the PSAT early and take test preparation seriously. (For more information about National Merit Scholarships, visit the National Merit Scholarship Corporation – or NMSC - website at: http://www.nationalmerit.org/index.php.)

The College Board co-sponsors the PSAT in cooperation with the NMSC. The College Board also sponsors the Scholastic Assessment (SAT), Advanced Placement (AP), and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests. The organization has a web site where you can view information about all of these tests, view testing date and registration information, and find links to useful test preparation tools. (You can visit the College Board website at: http://www.collegeboard.org/?student.)

Who should take the PSAT?

I advise anyone who is thinking about attending college to take the PSAT test. Even if you’re not sure or you’re thinking about becoming a military candidate and joining the military after high school, taking the PSAT is a good idea. Here are several reasons why:

1.) Standardized test practice. When students reach 8th grade, they have taken many standardized tests. Depending on the type of schools they’ve attended and school district policies in their area, students may take three (3) or four (4) standardized tests each school year. However, the SAT – like all standardized tests – has its own particular format for questions, test grading, and score reporting procedures. The PSAT will give students a preview of the SAT test format, which will help reduce their anxiety when they take the SAT.

2.) Private school admission. PSAT test scores can serve as proof of academic seriousness when applying to private, specialized, or technical high schools. This is especially true for high school freshmen considering a transfer to a private or specialized school. Typically, they have not yet taken the SAT and have only been at their current school for one (1) year or less. PSAT scores can be submitted along with application packets as proof of a student’s seriousness in pursuing advanced education.

3.) Homeschooling progress indicator. For homeschooled students, PSAT scores can serve as an indicator of academic progress. Homeschooling parents can use scores to assess student’s readiness for tougher high school level material and/ or to adjust lessons to differentiate instruction by student ability. Parents can also use test results to compare strengths and weaknesses with state academic standards to determine approximate grade level performance.

4.) NMSQT qualification and application. As mentioned in the previous section, PSAT scores are used to determine eligibility for National Merit Scholarships. All college bound students could benefit from financial assistance! College tuition costs are rising at a percentage slightly higher than the annual cost of living increase. DegreeDirectory.org cites increase percentages from 5% annually (according to FinAid.org) to 20% for states such as New York and Florida (reported by Inland News Today in October 2009). The PSAT can be a tool to help students become financially prepared for college.

Summary

Many guidance counselors and classroom teachers stress the importance of preparing for the SAT test and taking it early, while often ignoring the PSAT. Students who are considering college, including those considering military service, should take the PSAT test. The scores can be useful to students applying to specialized or private high schools, homeschooling parents who need to determine their student’s ability level and readiness for upper level high school material, and for students considering a National Merit Scholarship to help with college financing. It can also serve as a practice test for the SAT. Students and parents should visit the College Board website to learn more about the PSAT test and how to prepare for it properly.

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