The PSAT: Why It Matters and Why You Should Prep for It


CPE #2 PencilsThe PSAT is an exam intended for college-bound students to take in the fall of their junior year. It’s just over half the length of the SAT (2 hr. 10 min., vs. 3 hr. 45 min.) and comprises the same three sections—Critical Reading (sentence completions and reading comprehension), Math, and Writing (I always chuckle at a test called Writing, but on which there is NO actual writing to do, only multiple choice grammar questions to answer). Unlike the SAT, there’s no essay on the PSAT, nor is there an experimental section. It is NOT required by any college, nor can it count against you in the admissions game. Although the “P” officially stands for “Preliminary,” many think of it as standing for “Practice.” Why, then, should you care, let alone spend precious time and money preparing for it? Good questions, glad you asked.

If you care about getting into the best colleges you can, then you SHOULD care about doing your best on the PSAT. For starters, students’ PSAT scores typically set a college entrance exam bar, below which they very rarely fall. That is, if I were to tell you that you are going to score higher on your actual SATs and/or ACTs than on the PSAT, how high would you want your PSAT score to be? See what I’m sayin’?

Here are some other compelling reasons why you should take the PSAT seriously:

  • Because you take the test in October (Oct.15 or Oct.18, 2014, depending on your school), you can prepare for it in August and September, by far the two most stress free (and likely activity-free) months between now and the end of the whole college application process.
  • Think of prepping for the PSAT as standardized testing spring training. Some MLB players skip spring training, and their regular season stats typically reflect it. Better to learn the drill in the calm of the end of the summer or beginning of the school year—what to study, how properly to practice, how to use multiple-choice and other test-taking strategies, and, most importantly, how to carve out the time and psychic space needed to thoroughly prepare for high-stakes exams—than after the insanity of your junior year begins to unfold.
  • While it’s true that you don’t have to send your PSAT scores to college as part of your application, you absolutely can send them (for example, your guidance counselor or school can include them on your transcript) if you do well enough (as defined by the schools to which you’re applying).
  • If you prepare and do well, your scores on the PSAT can net you (or more accurately, your parents) beacoup bucks from many scholarships including about 8,200 National Merit Scholarships. And let’s just say you earn $10k in one such scholarship (and there are even more lucrative ones, including completely free rides through college). Wouldn’t it be perfectly reasonable to hit your parents up for $5k towards a car or the computer of your dreams? Everybody wins. 😉
  • Similarly, if you are a National Merit finalist (or sometimes even a semi-finalist or commended student), many corporations use this honor to award their own scholarships.
  • Hundreds of colleges guarantee additional Merit Scholarships to National Merit finalists. Many colleges, in an effort to attract the best students and boost their reputations, offer significant institutional grants (sometimes even free tuition) to National Merit finalists. National Merit finalists tend to be aggressively recruited by colleges.
  • Finally, having taken the PSAT in October, you can take an ACT in December and have one highly indicative score for each of the two college entrance exams by the end of the calendar year. That will best position you to plan and execute an SAT and/or ACT strategy for the winter and spring, when they really count (unless, of course, your prep for the PSAT enables you to do so well on your Dec ACT that you’re all done–and that happens to a small but blissfully happy number of CPE students every year, namely, the pro-active ones).

If you decide you want to go for the PSAT brass ring, we are most certainly here to help. Check out our our Fall PSAT Prep Classprivate tutoring, and small group tutoring options.  You’ll be glad you did.


About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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