Many students wonder if they should prepare for the PSAT, which, by virtue of its name, is a “preliminary” or practice test. Certainly, if you are taking it in your freshman or sophomore year, the main goal is to get a feel for the test and an approximation of how you might perform on the SAT. These “baseline” scores can help you set your college admission goals and give you an indication of how much more you may need to prep for the SAT or ACT. In junior year, however, the PSAT/NMSQ holds more weight, because that score is the best predictor of your junior SAT score. In addition, your performance may qualify you for National Merit Scholarship recognition, can provide a scholarship for college and make you a standout on your college applications.
Because you’ll likely take it in 9th or 10th grade, and because it is intended as practice for the SAT, the PSAT is designed to be a bit easier than the SAT. It’s a shorter duration test, giving you more time per question than on the SAT (On the reading and math without calculator sections).
The best thing about taking the time to prepare for the PSAT is that the concepts, strategies, and tricks you will learn are the same ones you’ll utilize for the SAT. In addition, doing well on the PSAT is typically an indication that you’ll perform well on the SAT. In this article, we’ll share some of the best tactics our experts suggest for PSAT prepping. Keep in mind these apply to the SAT as well.
You might want to start by reviewing our Ultimate Guide to Preparing for College Entrance Exams filled with useful information and advice for preparing for any kind of standardized test. When you’re ready to begin prepping for the PSAT, the following tips will set you up for success:
1. Gather Your Materials and Team
It’s so important when you’re starting out to remember that you’re not alone on this journey. There is a lot of support available to you – teachers, tutors, PSAT prep classes, peers, and online help. A great place to begin is by reviewing official PSAT tests, which you can find on CollegeBoard. You’ll get a feel for the types of questions you’ll face. Then you can decide what level of assistance you might need.
Be honest with yourself. While some students are self-motivated and put the time and effort into studying and practicing on their own, many others may need a tutor to keep them focused. If you’re somewhere in between, perhaps you create a prep group with friends who meet regularly to keep each other on track. Or perhaps you choose a mixture of home study and participation in a prep class.
As you begin, you’ll need to make sure you have several official practice tests and the materials that can help you learn concepts and strategies. You can find plenty of free resources at your local library or on the internet. CollegeBoard.com offers PSAT support here. Khan Academy has also put together some great tools to help you practice and prepare. If you want to purchase a study guide, we suggest using the Official SAT Study Guide and then using official PSAT tests for practicing.
2. Work on Your Foundation
The PSAT, like the other standardized tests, has been created to test your knowledge on subjects you’ve already studied in school. So, it can be helpful to review old notes from math, reading, and English classes. Here are other helpful tips. We suggest that you…
- …Spend Time Reading – It’s one of the most effective ways to improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Look for reading materials that engage and entertain you; read as much as you can outside of assigned schoolwork.
- …Practice Speed Reading Skills – A quick Google search will help you find some tips to enhance your reading speed. For instance, you can practice scanning, using your finger to guide you, and focusing on key words. You’ll also want to see if it helps you to circle, underline, and jot down quick notes in order to better understand what you’re reading. Practicing will help you find what works for you and improve your timing while testing.
- …Improve Vocabulary by Learning Greek and Latin Roots. This can save you so much time in the long run. A significant percentage of the English language is derived from Greek and Latin words, and once you know those roots, you magically widen your vocabulary. For instance, knowing that amic is the Latin root for friend will help you deduce that amicable means friendly.
3. Build Your Skills With Practice
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he shares his theory that 10,000 hours is the magical amount of practice time that it takes to master a skill, such as playing the violin. Don’t worry! We’re not suggesting you invest that much time in prepping for the PSAT, but the large number underscores our point that the most effective way to prepare for the PSAT is to practice, practice, practice. It’s all about getting familiar with the testing style and timing. So, when you take a practice test, make sure to simulate the testing environment to make it as close as possible to that which you’ll experience on test day. You’ll want to:
- Print out the test (don’t take it digitally – trust us, there’s a difference!)
- Use a bubble sheet
- Time yourself using the very same time you’ll be allotted for the test sections
- Try to do it all in one sitting
For more tips about getting the most out of your practice sessions, see our blog on How to Practice Properly.
4. Add the Finishing Touches: Tips and Tricks
Our PSAT/SAT tutors may be getting close to that 10,000-hour mark when it comes to helping students test after test after test. As a result, they’ve come up with test-taking strategies that can help beyond your knowledge of the concepts. Here are a few of their helpful hints that you can work with as you prep:
- Prioritize the easy questions. As you take the test, focus on answering the questions that are easiest or quickest for you, even if you have to jump around a bit. Since all of the questions carry equal weight, you want to get to all the ones you feel you can answer and avoid wasting unnecessary time on those that are more difficult. Then you’ll go back and answer those you skipped.
- Read the questions and answers VERY carefully. Part of the challenge of the PSAT and SAT is deciphering what the testers are looking for. Sometimes overlooking a simple word in a question will throw you onto the wrong track. Make sure you know exactly what the question is asking. Read it 3 times if necessary – and do the same with the answers! These often can contain truthful elements while tossing a single word or phrase that makes the answer choice false.
- If you’re guessing the answer, use the same letter choice every time you guess. History tells us that each answer choice is correct about the same number of times, so your odds are better if you consistently stick with one letter, rather than guess randomly.
For additional strategies, see our blog on Best SAT Test Prep Tips.
Remember to call us if you need any help with your PSAT test prep. We offer all kinds of support, from group and private tutoring, to test simulations. Our experts have assisted thousands of students in improving their scores. Best of luck!