Taking the PSAT…Seriously

psatThis blog post written by A-List Senior Tutor, Gary Surman.

Once again, we find ourselves at the beginning of a new school year that promises new learning, new opportunity, and new challenges! This is particularly true for those of you beginning your junior year in high school, a year full of difficult school courses and college entrance exams – many of you have already begun preparing to take either the SAT or the ACT, and others will begin to do so soon. One important step in this process is coming up in the middle of October, as you may remember from your sophomore year: the PSAT!

If you don’t remember taking the PSAT in 10th grade, you either didn’t take it or just didn’t take it seriously. This is understandable! Your sophomore PSAT is basically just your first chance to see what these tests are like; however, in your junior year, the PSAT carries more importance.

First of all, this is an excellent opportunity to sit through an officially administered exam, so you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to sit for the full SAT or the ACT. Because taking these exams is such a different experience from taking tests in school – even longer midterms or finals – it’s very important to take full-length practice exams, especially ones that replicate the environment of an official SAT or ACT.

Second, for those students who will take the SAT in the spring, the PSAT is an essential way to practice the format and timing of the full-length test, particularly since the new formats of these exams are more similar than ever.

However, many students who are preparing for the ACT may consider the PSAT a distraction or an unnecessary burden that would be better ignored. This is a mistake! The new PSAT is also very similar to the ACT, so the experience you’ll gain will be extremely valuable. Also, if you jumped into the ACT without taking a look at the SAT, this could prove to be an eye-opening experience: perhaps the timing of the PSAT will prove to be more forgiving than that of the ACT, or perhaps you’ll find the test easier for you. Every student is different – although you may hear from your friends and family that the ACT is the easier test, that may not be true for you, and it’s worth trying the PSAT to find out.

These points by themselves provide a strong argument for taking the PSAT, but for those students who are looking for a way to differentiate themselves from their peers and give their college applications an extra boost, this exam provides another opportunity: the National Merit Scholarship Program. Every year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or NMSC, selects the 50,000 top-scoring juniors who will qualify for recognition. Two-thirds of these students will receive Letters of Commendation from NMSC, a distinction that will help their applications stand out amongst the thousands that colleges will receive. The remaining third of these students will qualify as National Merit Semifinalists and will be invited to apply for the National Merit Scholarship. This is an even greater accolade that will certainly help these students stand out from the crowd of their peers – many of whom will have similar test scores, GPAs, and extracurricular activities – regardless of whether they receive the additional financial bonus of winning a scholarship.

All of this really amounts to a single statement: the PSAT is great opportunity for experience and practice for all students, as well as a chance to demonstrate excellence for some. Every student should take it – and take it seriously!