The PSAT or the PSAT/NMSQT is an important test that you'll likely take as a sophomore or a junior. There are a lot of reasons that this test is important. Some students take a PSAT test as they move through 8th and 9th grade as well – which measures your academic progress through those grades and can help determine your placement in AP Courses when you get into high school. The actual PSAT/NMSQT test is taken in 10th or 11th grade. Taken here, it is a predictor of how well you will do on your SAT test, and it can qualify you for a variety of scholarships that can go a long way in helping you pay for college. So the question is, how can you best prepare for this important test?
What's on the test?
The first thing you need to know in order to prepare for the test is what the test covers. The PSAT test consist of 3 sections: Reading, Math and Writing.
The reading test is designed to measure how well you read, retain and analyze material. You will be asked to read a section of text and then answer questions about the text. You'll be asked questions that will demonstrate your ability to understand what evidence is present in the reading material and how that leads to a conclusion. You'll show how you can use context to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. You'll use analysis tools such as interpreting information and considering the implications of that information.
The Math section measures your ability to use and apply math in real-world settings. You'll use your math skills by applying them to specific situations presented in the question. There is a section where you cannot use a calculator, and another section where you can. The "with calculator" section will deal with more complex mathematical issues where a calculator can help you deal with the arithmetic of the problem so that you can more quickly move through each step.
The writing test is similar to the reading test. You'll be presented with a piece of writing and asked questions relative to the writing. You'll be pointing out grammatical mistakes, as well as helping with revisions to the writing to clarify meaning.
Most of the questions are multiple choice, with the exception of a few of the math questions.
How to best prepare:
Brush up on your math skills and your grammar if you can, but traditional studying might not help as much as it does for other tests. The goal of the PSAT is to examine how well you apply what you have learned, not really what you have memorized. It's looking for your aptitude, your ability to think critically and analyze information. This isn't a test where you work on memorizing a bunch of facts.
The best thing you can do is take practice tests. Practice tests can be found in many places online, as well as from the college board, the makers of the PSAT. The practice tests mimic the actual PSAT, so you'll be able to gauge where you are doing well and where you may need more help.
If, after taking a couple of practice tests, you feel like you need more help, there are prep courses and books available that can help you. Use those resources if you need them. Working to get a good score on the PSAT is also a way of working to get a good score on your SAT, which you will probably take the following year.