Your Ultimate Guide to the PSAT

The PSAT/ NMSQT provides great practice for the SAT and can open doors for the National Merit Scholarship.

Next month, schools will offer the 2017 PSAT/NMSQT to 10th and 11th grade students nationwide. What do you need to know about the 2017 PSAT?

Who takes the PSAT?

The PSAT/NMSQT is open to both 10th and 11th grade students. While many 10th graders take the test, most test takers will be juniors because 11th grade students who take it compete for the coveted National Merit Scholarship.

What’s the difference between the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10?

You may have heard of an alternative called the PSAT 10. Both tests are the same but are offered at different times of the year. The PSAT/NMSQT is open to both 10th and 11th grade students and is used as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT 10 is open only to 10th grade students. Although some scholarship programs use the PSAT 10 to screen for qualified students, the test does NOT qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship.

Why should you take the PSAT/NMSQT?

Many students take the PSAT/NMSQT for the opportunity to compete for the National Merit Scholarship and other scholarship and recognition programs. This is a great reason to take the test, but there are other reasons to sit for it, including:

  • Overcoming test anxiety: Get feedback for potential SAT performance. Students who perform well are at an advantage when sitting for the SAT because they will have the confidence that comes with having successfully taken a similar test under similar conditions.
  • Feedback for SAT success: The feedback you receive from the PSAT can help identify areas of strength and weakness to aid you in your SAT prep.
  • Seeing how you compare: Percentile rankings can provide insight on how your scores compare to your peers nationwide, which can help guide your college admission strategies.

How can you prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT?

Since the tests are so similar, your best bet for preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT is to begin your SAT prep a bit earlier than you may have planned. Preparing for the SAT will also prepare you for the PSAT because the content of the tests overlaps. A diagnostic SAT at your local C2 Education center can give you valuable testing practice while helping you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, which allows you to target your preparation to the areas where you need the most work.

If long-term prep isn’t an option – the PSAT/NMSQT is, after all, mere weeks away – there are still things you can do to boost your score:

  • Take a practice test. This requires an investment of a couple of hours for the entire test, but it provides some big advantages on test day. You’ll already know the format of the test, you’ll be familiar with the directions, and you won’t be surprised by the types of questions and passages you’ll see on test day. Familiarity alone can boost your score by reducing time-wasting struggles on test day.
  • Use your test score to identify one or two of your weakest areas, and then focus your efforts there. If you can spot one or two topics that you scored really badly on, you can focus your efforts there to get the biggest bang for your test prep time.
  • Understand the format of the test. For example, all questions are worth the same, no matter how hard or easy they may be. Don’t waste loads of time on one or two hard questions because that could mean that you won’t get to five or six easier questions at the end of the section. It can be hard to skip questions, but force yourself to do it anyway. If time allows, you can always go back.
  • Use the lack of guessing penalty to your advantage. No guessing penalty means that you shouldn’t leave a question blank. Even if you guess blindly because you only have seconds remaining on the section, you still give yourself a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and eat a hearty breakfast. Both of these can boost your brain power and concentration.