PSAT in Perspective
Scores were released from CollegeBoard last week for students who took the PSAT this October. While this may be a source of excitement or anxiety for some students, it is important for all students to remember that no test will ever define a person, nor will it ever single-handedly determine college admission. Understanding what the test is and how testing can impact the college application process will allow students and families to make decisions about how best to use test results. These are the most frequently asked questions I receive and which I have tried to address below:
What are the SAT and ACT? When are they taken and by whom?
What is the PSAT? Why are all the high school students taking it?
When and how should my student prepare for testing?
What does NMSQT mean?
Standardized College Entrance Exams like the SAT and ACT
are used by some (not all) colleges as part of the application evaluation and for some (not all) scholarship evaluation. All schools consider GPA in rigorous curriculum to be of greater importance than test scores. There are also many wonderful schools that are entirely test-optional or test-blind (either not requiring or not even accepting test scores). As we are a college preparatory school, we choose to prepare students for the SAT to ensure that they have a greater variety of options when determining the best fit colleges for them. We administer the PSAT on our campus to 9
grade students. Students will then register independently to take college entrance exams (SAT and/or ACT) usually in the winter or spring of their junior year (and can repeat tests several times before applications are due in the winter of senior year).
The PSAT was designed to provide an opportunity for practice
, so that students could identify areas where they wished to improve their performance prior to the SAT. We choose to administer the PSAT to the freshmen and sophomores as well. We do this for several reasons:
Increased exposure reduces the anxiety students feel on the tests.
Each test generates incredibly specific feedback which the student can use to maximize opportunities for growth.
Each test can be linked to the Khan Academy to secure free, individualized practice on the skills most immediately beneficial to the student. (It prioritizes based on foundational/difficulty level as well as on test frequency of the topic/skill.
Analysis of the aggregate data provides opportunities for our school and network to look for best practices, strategies, and opportunities to improve our curriculum.
However, the first two years of PSAT testing really are intended to be diagnostic.
Much of the material presented on the PSAT will not be taught until the end of sophomore or beginning of junior year. Therefore, we wait to encourage concentrated test prep until end of sophomore year, and then, particularly for students who are specifically focusing on the National Merit Scholarship.
Students prepare for the test at school and individually.
There are many independent, for-profit companies that have built quite an empire out of the “Test-Prep” industry. It is true that these courses can be beneficial in helping students prepare for the test. Many studies would indicate any preparation (whether through a class or alone) is likely to have the same result. In other words, there are no magic solutions, hints, or short-cuts offered by these companies. They are merely structuring the student’s practice.
Great Hearts is in the final stages of selecting our network-wide Test Prep Program after hearing proposals from multiple companies. We also encourage utilizing Khan Academy and CollegeBoard for their free resources and individualized practice.
The NMSQT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
National Merit Scholarship Corporation wanted a way to identify students who would be worthwhile “investments”. They wanted to financially reward students demonstrating proficiency and aptitude for future college success. They paired with CollegeBoard to utilize the PSAT administered in the fall of junior year. This would allow them sufficient time to analyze national test scores, select the top 50,000 or so students across the nation, and commend their academic achievement and preparation for the test. They then begin a process of further review to select a subset of these students for additional recognition as Semi-Finalists and Finalists. Each subsequent level provides greater distinction in the college application process and is linked to additional scholarship opportunities. You can learn about the National Merit Scholarship Corporation at