To PSAT or Not PSAT—That Is the Question
Say hello to another college admissions expert and SparkLife blogger: JP! In his first post, he tackles a PSAT question from a Sparkler:
I'm a junior and I'm not sure I should sign up for the PSAT. Are there any other reasons for taking the PSAT besides the National Merit Scholarship and SAT practice? Do colleges and scholarships look at PSAT scores?
Ah yes, it’s October, and high school juniors across the country will soon be staggering into gymnasiums, wondering if it was worth the effort to drag their butts out of bed for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), a two-hour and ten-minute brain-fry. (Well, that’s what it was like for me, anyway. Some of my friends even called it the “PSAT Means Squat.”
So, should you bother?
The short answer is “yes”—a very qualified “yes.” Why? What do you get out of it?
- You get the experience of taking a big test based on the national standard.
- You get used to the test format, the testing environment, and the pre-test jitters.
- You get a sense of where you stand nationally in basic scholastic areas.
- You get an idea of what you might try to improve (at least for the SAT).
- You get motivated to ramp up your college search.
But here are a few things to remember:
1. There's no reason to freak out. Remember: The PSAT is PRELIMINARY. From the PSAT/NMSQT website:
“Spending your school years taking challenging academic courses and reading widely is the best way to get ready for the PSAT/NMSQT.”
Notice they did NOT say, “Spending your school years buying test-preparation books and stressing out at two in the morning is the best way to get ready for the PSAT/NMSQT.” If studying for and worrying about the PSAT—before and after the actual test—is going to eat into your homework time, deprive you of sleep, or make your mom tear out her hair, think twice.
2. Don’t worry about a lousy score. Colleges do not take the PSAT into account when making admissions decisions, and the only funding organization that awards money based on the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). Oh, and about that…
3. Don’t expect a National Merit Scholarship. Less than one percent of the 1.4 million who take the PSAT receive a National Merit Scholarship. The NMSC awards only around 10,000 of these scholarships each year—and the award is for $2,500. Now that you know that, stop blowing so much of your walkin’ around money at the mall and start saving money. From now until Freshman Orientation, aim to create your own “Personal Merit Scholarship.”
So, take the PSAT and see how you do. It could help you focus, and the experience taking it will probably be useful—at least psychologically—as you gear up for the SAT and the college search. Just remember: It’s PRELIMINARY. Stay focused on finishing up your high school career with confidence, accomplishment, and style.
Got questions for the confident, accomplished, and stylish JP? Email him at email@example.com.