So you’ve decided to take the January PSAT. Awesome! There are tons of great reasons to take the PSAT. (We wrote about some of them here in our Complete PSAT Guide.) Now it’s time to prep for the PSAT. Lucky for you, we’ve got a plan for a high score on the PSAT.
How Do I Get a High PSAT Score?
Here are 4 steps to follow for a high PSAT score:
- Take a practice test
- Figure out your kryptonite – your biggest weaknesses
- Drill your weaknesses, review your strengths
- Check in with more practice tests
The fact that you’re reading an article titled “4 Steps to a High PSAT Score” is a good start—it means that you’re among those students who really want to take advantage of what the PSAT has to offer. There are two huge benefits to boosting your PSAT score:
- Valuable SAT prep for higher SAT scores so that you can get into your dream college
- Scholarship opportunities—especially the National Merit Scholarship
A quick overview for those not in the know: The PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship (that’s the NMSQT part), and students who move forward in the competition for the National Merit Scholarship are sought after by colleges.
Learn more about the National Merit Scholarship competition with our Complete PSAT Guide.
If you want to be competitive for the National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to score as close to a perfect 1520 as possible, so you need to be at the top of your PSAT game.
Step One: Take a practice test.
You know you need a high PSAT score—now you need to figure out where you stand now. The best way to do that is with a practice test, but for that test to give you an accurate idea of your abilities, you have to take some specific steps:
- Make sure it’s a full-length test rather than just partial practice sections.
- Find a quiet space free of distractions.
- Have your materials ready ahead of time: pencils, erasers, calculator, answer sheets, and a timer.
- Take the test all in one sitting. (You can go to the bathroom, but don’t take a big 30+ minute break.)
- Time yourself! Stop at the end of each section, even if you’re tempted to give yourself just one more second.
Use the scoring guide that goes with your chosen test to figure out how you did.
Step Two: Figure out your kryptonite.
You’re usually going to see the biggest score boosts by focusing the most heavily on your biggest weaknesses—your kryptonite.
- Did you score lower in one section than another?
- Is there a particular topic or question type that you missed several times?
- Did you have to guess a lot?
- Did you struggle to finish before time ran out?
Once you know what you need to work on, you can target your studying more effectively.
Step Three: Drill your weaknesses, review your strengths.
Effective PSAT prep should include both your weaknesses and your strengths. Don’t assume that because you scored well on the math section on your practice PSAT, you’ll automatically score well again without reviewing or practicing any math problems.
- Spend the most time focused on your weaknesses. Review key concepts in your prep book, do practice questions, and give yourself timed drills.
- Spend part of every study session reviewing concepts you’ve already got down. Not only does this give you a much needed confidence boost (no one enjoys focusing on the negative all the time!), but it also ensures that you retain your strengths. (Think of it this way: no personal trainer would ever tell you to stop working your upper body because you already met your weight-lifting goal.)
It can be tough to master the concepts where you struggle without some help. After all, if it was easy to figure out algebra or subject-verb agreement, you’d probably have done it already. If you get stuck, don’t hesitate to ask for help! Your math and English teachers would probably be more than happy to go over a tricky practice question before or after class. That friend who always gets A’s in algebra might have exactly the right example to make a challenging concept click. The Internet is, of course, an endless source of information (just be careful of which sources you use since the Internet is also full of a lot of bad information). And, of course, the PSAT experts at your local C2 Education center are always ready to help.
Step Four: Check In with More Practice Tests
Periodically—not every day—take another practice test. Same rules apply: full-length timed tests in a single sitting.
Where did you make progress? Where do you still have the most room to move up? How should you adjust your strategy to account for these changes?
With every practice test, your post-scoring review will be key:
- Answer any questions you skipped. Think about how you can change your testing strategy to make sure that you get through the entire section in time.
- Carefully review every missed question. Make sure you understand exactly where you went wrong. If you can’t figure it out, ask a teacher, parent, friend, or tutor for help.
- Look through the questions you got right. Make sure you know why you got them right and that you didn’t just get a lucky guess.
PSAT Prep Resources
Here are some great FREE PSAT prep resources:
- Official PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide
- Two Full-Length Official PSAT Practice Tests
- C2’s Complete PSAT Guide
Bonus: Although the College Board only has two official PSAT practice tests available, there are eight officially released SAT practice tests available. The PSAT and the SAT are almost identical: Same subjects, same question types, same general layout. The SAT is a little bit longer and a little bit harder, and the scoring scale is slightly different. These differences are slight enough that the SAT offers perfect practice for the PSAT.