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Ask the Experts: PSAT

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014

Question Can you explain what the National Merit Scholarship has to do with PSAT's and who qualifies?  Am I eligible if I take the PSAT's as a Senior? - Jason

AnswerThe junior year PSAT is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). You cannot take the PSAT as a senior, though you can take it for practice as a sophomore (or even as a freshman). Out of the million-plus PSAT takers, 55,000 of the highest scorers make it into the initial pool of National Merit Commended Scholars.

Each state sends a proportional number of scholars, so the "bar" to get into that group is higher or lower depending on your state. States like New York or Connecticut with a high scoring PSAT population overall see a combined PSAT score of about 205-210 annually as the entry point for that first group. That means a score of about a 70 or above (on the 20-80 point scale) on all three sections of the test (writing, math, verbal).

Once you're in the pool of commended scholars, you may make the cutoff to be a Semi-Finalist if your scores are high enough, and then you might be a Finalist or actual National Merit Scholar depending on your SATs, performance in school, and an essay/application.

 

Question does it matter what we got on it? - Courtney

AnswerThe good news regarding the PSAT is that the test results are not seen by the colleges that you will apply to in the future. The PSAT is meant to give you practice in this particular type of test and to help you identify areas of academic strength and weaknesses. You should use it as a guideline to studying for the SAT which you should take this spring (March, May, or June). One immediate result of the PSAT can be qualification for the National Merit Scholarship competition. The first screening for the Merit competition is based on the results of the PSAT. Of the million plus juniors who take the PSAT, some 55,000 will qualify for consideration for merit awards. It is well worth the effort to prepare for and take the PSAT seriously while at the same time understanding there are no dire circumstances if you do not do well. If you're looking to prepare for the PSAT, here is a free PSAT practice test available from Peterson's.

 

Question I am a Sophomore and recently got my PSAT scores back and they were pretty good.  My English scores were a lot better than my Math scores. Does this really matter when translating these scores to the SAT as long as my overall score is good? - Daniel

AnswerYou're in good shape if your Critical Reading and Writing scores were higher. That's because it's harder to bring those scores up than it is to improve your math scores. And, the SAT, like the PSAT, is doubly weighted in your favor: two English-oriented sections and one math. Your overall score is most important, and, especially if you are applying to liberal arts colleges that require a lot of humanities and social science course work, will work in your favor even if your math is the lowest of the three sections. That said, you will need to know math through Algebra II to do well on the SAT math section, so start working now to make sure you know your material for the SAT. Many colleges, even the liberal arts ones described above, do have quantitative course requirements that will require you to know Algebra or higher level math.

 

Question i am a 10th grader in high school, but i dont know what to study for the psat. what advice can you give me? - brittney

AnswerWe encourage 10th graders to take the PSAT for the practice experience it provides for future preparation for the actual SAT in the future. There are a number of fine study/review workbooks you can purchase at any bookstore. You can also do an online tutorial program with Peterson's which many students have found to be both helpful and fun because of the interactive feedback. Over time, the most important factor in doing well on the standardized admissions test is to do a good deal of reading on your own, be it newspapers, magazines, stories, or nonfiction books.

 

Question How good an indicator are the PSATs of how a student will perform on the SATs?  In this case, my daughter did no prep at all for the PSAT but will have an individual, 1X/week SAT tutor to prep for fall SATs. - diane

AnswerThe PSAT test is typically predictive of the pattern in a student's testing. That is, strengths and weaknesses show up. A student might typically do better always on one or another section, or trouble spots with grammar, geometry, reading, etc., might show up in the PSAT which need to be worked on for the SAT. That said, if a student has done little or no work prior to the PSAT, and then does a fair amount or a lot of work for the SAT, his/her scores will usually increase quite substantially. Perhaps this might not happen on the first SAT in March or May as much as the second, or even third, SAT try in October or later in senior fall.

 

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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