What is the PSAT and is it Worth Taking?

Contrary to popular belief, the PSAT does not stand for Practice SAT. (Although, it should). The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and serves as not only a trial run for the real deal, but also as an opportunity to earn scholarship money for high scores. It’s a two-hour exam administered annually in October to 10th and 11th graders. It’s pretty much identical to the SAT, except there’s no essay portion and it’s scored out of 1520 instead of 1600. The exact price of the PSAT varies based on your school. My high school charged $25 with an opportunity to waive the fee in special circumstances.

The PSAT gives you the opportunity to experience the SAT for a lower price in a low-stress and low-stakes environment. (Most likely, a hot and smelly gym with 200 other kids, but if it works, it works.) You should never take the real exam just to “get a feel.” This is a waste of time and money, and many schools require that you send all SAT scores, so they will see the exam you took for fun. If you want to try the SAT without the costs, take the PSAT instead. Most likely, a great deal of your class will be taking the PSAT, so it’s great to be able to take it alongside your friends and “not talk about it afterwards.”

Low-stress low-stakes environment.

The exam also provides comprehensive results: the problems you missed along with correct answers and explanations, a customized study plan based on your performance, stats about how you compare against other students in your state and country, and so on. You can even opt to receive information from colleges, which results in a huge number of letters in the mail every day, but it’s well worth it. I learned about schools and programs I didn’t know about before, which was invaluable during application season.

Besides serving as a guiding point for the SAT, the PSAT also awards scholarships and honors to high scoring juniors. You’re automatically entered into the competition by simply taking the exam. The competition provides scholarships to about 8,200 students every year. Even if you don’t get the scholarship, they give honors (Commended Scholars, Semi-Finalists, and Finalists) to about the top 96th percentile, which looks great on college and scholarship applications.

The PSAT also awards scholarships and honors to high scoring juniors.

I would recommend taking the PSAT in both 10th and 11th grade, but I don’t think it’s necessary to study for the former. I recommend looking at the 10th grade one as a chance to dip your toe into the water and the 11th grade one as an opportunity to achieve honors, scholarships, and feedback. However, if you have the time and motivation to study for both, there’s no reason not to. Once you receive your scores back, you can determine your areas of strength and weakness, and go from there.

Good luck!

This blog post was written by Mariam Diallo


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