The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), is an optional standardized test you will take in high school. Most students will assume that it is just to get yourself ready and see how you would do if and when you take the SAT, which is a test almost every student will be required to take when applying for college.
Though it is true that the PSAT prepares you for the SAT, it also does a number of other things that will help you later in life. Whether you score well or not, it is recommended that every student take the PSAT at least a year before having to take the SAT. The only time the PSAT is administered is in the fall, typically mid-October, so you don't want to miss the deadline. You'll also want to study well in advance of the test date so that you know what you are getting yourself into. Here's why the test matters.
You will get better at standardized test process
Standardized tests, like the SAT and the ACT, are different than any other test or exam you will have taken in high school. For one, each section of these tests are timed and you won't have the ability to go back after the time is up to complete any questions you skipped over, which means you have to work well under pressure and know how to manage your time. Skipping over difficult questions and going back to them after you've completed the easy ones is a common strategy, and it works well if you have the time to actually go back to them. You don't lose points for not answering questions, but you won't gain any points either.
Secondly, the PSAT questions are stated so that you have to really think in order to get the right answer. You won't see any multiple choice options that are easy to guess. Most of the answers will seem correct or will be there to fool you, so you really need to learn how to narrow down your choices effectively when making a guess.
Third, you will learn what it takes and much studying it takes to truly do well on these types of tests. The problems given are most likely things you have already learned in high school, but they will usually consist of content that you might not have dealt with before, especially in such depth. Both the math and writing portion, for example, will include informational graphics and you will be asked to interpret the graphics and come up with the best conclusion.
Gets you ready for AP tests
If you are planning on taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, you'll want to take the PSAT. Every AP class you will be presented with college level coursework and have to take the AP test at the end of the class in order to actually receive college credit. These college credits are great because it puts you ahead when you go to college, and you won't have to pay tuition in order to receive the college credit.
The same organization, the College Board, administers both the SAT and AP exams, and the tests are similarly framed. Aside from specific content in an AP course, scoring well on the PSAT is a good indicator that you will score well on AP exams.
Qualifies you for scholarships
The National Merit Scholarship Program uses your scores from the PSAT to qualify you for an enormous amount of scholarships available to help pay for the cost of college tuition. This is why it is vitally important that you take enough time to study for the PSAT, take practice tests, and do everything you can do to score well on the PSAT. The higher score you get the more likely you are to get scholarships, which in the end makes taking the PSAT worth it.
Prepares you for the SAT
Ultimately, the PSAT prepares you for the SAT, which can be an important factor for whether or not you are accepted into the college you want. College admissions looks at your SAT and ACT scores to determine whether or not you are worth their time to admit as a student at their institution. Even though you can retake the SAT if you don't do well the first time, you might as well get some formal practice in taking these kinds of tests before lunging into the real thing. Not every college requires your SAT scores, but most do.
So, while yes, the PSAT is optional and you don't necessarily have to take the test in order to be a successful student, it is still a good idea to take it. And not only just take it, but study for it as if it matters that you do well, because it does. Start now by researching study tips, taking practice tests, and learning what kinds of questions will be asked on the PSAT.