Five Reasons Students Should Take the PSAT

PSAT NMSQT logo

Two weeks ago, I delivered a presentation for a college information night. The whole event went very well, but there was one question that I could have answered more fully. Why is it important for students to take the PSAT?

Here are the top five reasons that students should take the PSAT. 

5. Taking the PSAT Allows Students to Experience the Content of the SAT.

The PSAT provides students with an excellent opportunity to get familiar with the types of questions they'll see on the real SAT. Students should take advantage of this opportunity.

For a student, it's a bit like learning CPR. You almost certainly won't need to know it today, but when the time comes, you'll be very glad that you do. And it only takes a few hours on a Saturday morning. What have you got to lose?

4. Taking the PSAT Helps High Schools Gather Data on Student Performance. 

Ask not what your school can do for you — ask what you can do for your school!

Both the PSAT and the brand new PreACT advertise that they provide schools with valuable information about how the students at the school are doing. Certainly, some of this is inflated marketing language, but the school administrators with whom I've spoken agree that the PSAT does provide valuable information.

It remains to be seen how valuable the PreACT actually is to schools, but like all things ACT, the PreACT claims to deliver important insights that will help high school students identify and pursue their passions as careers.

I must not have taken mine very seriously because I recall that my results back in high school included helicopter pilot, oceanographer, and puppeteer. It's difficult to imagine a less focused cluster of professions or a less actionable bit of information.     

3. Taking the PSAT Can Help Students Earn Money for College.

For some students (and many parents) this is the number one reason to take the PSAT. It's also the major advantage that the PSAT retains over the new PreACT. The PSAT is also called the PSAT-NMSQT. Yes, that's an absurd acronym; however, it's worth mentioning because the NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholar Qualifying Test. Essentially, that means that a good score on the PSAT-NMSQT can qualify students to receive money for college.

The vast majority of the 1.6 million students who take the test annually won't see a dime, but that doesn't mean they're wasting their time.

The top 50,000 will qualify for program recognition. Of those 50,000 students, 34,000 will receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise. While that sounds good, it's actually the end of the line for those students.
The remaining 16,000 are Semifinalists. They represent the highest-scoring students in each state. NMSC notifies them through their schools and provides scholarship application materials.

Of those 16,000 Semifinalists who meet academic and other requirements will be notified that they have advanced to the pool of 15,000 students who have achieved Finalist standing.

7,500 students win money for college, which includes National Merit $2,500 Scholarships, Corporate-sponsored scholarships, and College-sponsored scholarships.

Another 1,200 students will win Special Scholarships that are funded by corporate sponsors. Although not Finalists, these scholarship recipients will be outstanding students who meet the eligibility criteria of the sponsors.

The important thing to keep in mind is that a student can "win" even without receiving any money. Even reaching the round of 50,000 is still pretty impressive and worth mentioning on college applications.
More resources can be found on the National Merit Scholarship Official Website

2. Taking the PSAT Helps Students Identify Their Strengths and Weaknesses.

As we've discussed in the past, it's very important that students and parents are well educated about the nature of the test prep industry. Many test prep companies and independent tutors now offer a hybrid SAT/ACT practice test as a leads generator. Ranging from 20 to 60-minutes in length, these tests cannot accurately predict a student's SAT or ACT score on an authentic test. Some test prep professionals acknowledge this, claiming that the test is only intended to help the student identify a preference. That begs the question as to why a student should bother taking a 60-minute test that doesn't provide any valid data. Still worse, some test prep providers actually claim that their cobbled-together diagnostic tests can provide a valid and predictive score.

At Clear Choice Test Prep, we're well aware of the demand for SAT/ACT practice tests among uneducated consumers. And we could assemble such a test this weekend if we desired. We've got more than enough questions. And we've got more than enough data about those questions. Even so, we're not in the business of misleading parents and students in order to generate sales leads. In fact, it's my fondest desire that more test prep professionals would speak out against this shady business practice. You can read much more about this in my post from last summer: Never Trust A Hybrid SAT/ACT Practice Test.

SnakeOil Salesman

More to the point, the College Board provides useful analysis for students who've taken the PSAT. These tools can be found on the College Board's official website. That's great news for students, who can log into the College Board's website and get funneled directly into Khan Academy and the whole College Board ecosystem, but it's not great news for test prep professionals, who may lose more and more potential clients to the College Board and Khan Academy's free online resources. Tutors, if you'd like info on how you can better compete not only with Kaplan and Princeton Review but also College Board and the ACT, please take a moment to book a software demo. 

More to the point, students can gain valuable insight into their strengths and weaknesses by accessing their PSAT score and answer analysis through the College Board's website. This is a valuable first step in preparing for the SAT.

 Do these score reports remind you of anything?

Do these score reports remind you of anything?

1. Taking the PSAT Allows Students to Experience Authentic Testing Conditions

One of the best ways to prepare for the experience of sitting down and taking a high-stakes test is to simulate authentic testing conditions during practice sessions. Obviously, that's easier said than done. Fortunately, the PSAT is essentially a form of immersion therapy for students who fear high-stakes testing. Immersion therapy is a psychological technique that allows the patient to overcome fears (phobias), anxiety, and panic disorders by being exposed to the object of their fears in a safe and comfortable environment. There's a bit more to it, which you can read about here, but immersion therapy is widely regarded as an effective practice.

Regardless of how students perform on the PSAT, they generally emerge from the experience with greater confidence and less anxiety about the SAT. And that is a major advantage when the time comes to begin preparing for the SAT.  

Stay in the Know. Get Blog Updates.

When do you advise your students to take the PSAT? What are your thoughts on the new PreACT? Please take a moment to share your thoughts with the other readers. And as always, thanks for reading! 

Matt McCorkle