We received the PSAT score. What does that mean and what do we do now? Part 3

The results from last October’s Revised PSAT results are out, and it’s causing our parents and students a lot of anxiety, especially as it relates to the National Merit Scholarship and college admissions testing.

All students graduating in 2017 or after will take the “Revised PSAT” in October of their junior year. We will try to answer all the lingering questions about the test through the next series of blogs:

Part 3: What does the PSAT say about my college admissions, and how can I use it to prepare for college?

In the last blog post, we talked about PSAT’s importance for the National Merit Scholarships. But what about the other 99% of students? Regardless of what a student’s PSAT score may be, remember that the principal value of the PSAT is feedback. This is useful for all students.

1. Find out your strengths and weaknesses in subject matter & test-taking approaches.

School guidance counselors should have the PSAT results and the actual test booklets by mid-January. Alternatively, you can log onto studentscores.collegeboard.org with your access code to see each question and its explanation (see Figure 1). It is important that you take the time to thoroughly review your test. Make a note of the sections, questions, and topics that were easy for you. See what was difficult and in what sections you were challenged for time. On the website, you can look through suggestions on how you can improve your skills and in which areas you should focus (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Question and Detailed Explanation

PSAT 3-1

Source: Collegeboard


Figure 2: Areas to Focus for Improvement

PSAT 3-2

Source: Collegeboard

2. Find out whether SAT or ACT is a better fit for you.

The next step is to compare your PSAT scores with your PLAN Test Scores, if you have taken it through your school already. PLAN test is an easier version of the ACT test, usually taken in 10th grade through schools. PSAT will give you an estimated SAT score range; PLAN will give you an estimated ACT score. Use a concordance table to “convert” one score to another and see whether you do better on SAT or ACT and which you like better (or hate less). Ideally, you should choose either the SAT or ACT and stick to preparing for one test (unless you qualify for the NMSQT, in which case you should prepare for PSAT/SAT for sure, and possibly also for the ACT).

If you have not taken the PLAN test or you feel that either PSAT or PLAN was not an accurate assessment of your current abilities, then you can take a full-length diagnostic ACT test and a full-length diagnostic SAT test for a more accurate comparison. We suggest that you download the test, print, and take a paper-and-pencil-based test (as opposed to online test) to simulate the test-taking conditions as accurately as possible. You can download a copy of an ACT test and four different SAT tests through their respective websites.

Many students and parents have a misunderstanding that ACT is a “Midwest” test and SAT is an “East & West Coast” test, but this is not true. All 4-year colleges and universities in the United States will accept either the SAT or ACT, and there is no advantage to taking one over the other. This is why you should choose early on in your test preparation just one test over the other (in most cases) and stick with it.

3. Use preparing for standardized tests to prepare for college.

Many students and parents are stressed out about trying to reach a certain score on the SAT or ACT as a goal. Standardized tests have been misused to create hyper-competitive fervor among students, parents, high schools, and colleges, as well as between the test makers themselves (i.e., ACT vs. SAT).

But we believe that there is a better way of approaching standardized test preparation when we consider the root of what these tests aim to measure: College and Career Readiness Standards, based on the Common Core State Standards.

Even though it is by no means a perfect measurement, the college readiness standards aim to see how ready you really are for college. The SAT’s Writing and Language or the ACT English and Writing tests measure your ability to communicate effectively in standard written English; the SAT Reading and the ACT Reading test measures your reading comprehension skills; and the SAT Math and the ACT Math and Science tests measure your problem-solving and analytical skills. All of these are essential foundational skills for you to be academically successful in college. Both the redesigned SAT and current ACT are designed to align to Common Core State Standards.

In other words, don’t just go after the higher scores as an end goal. Use your time preparing for the SAT or ACT exams to increase your foundational skills that will equip you for long-term success. This will mean that you will need to spend time and energy on actually learning the content and being honest with yourself about your college preparedness. However, when you prepare this way, you will not only use your time well, investing in your future self, but score increases will be a natural outcome. For example, many of our students have found a greater sense of motivation and accomplishment after studying with us, while also seeing increases in their test scores – 4 points, 6, 10 or even more. They continue to benefit during their college years, because of the time spent on foundational skills.

We hope that you will make the most out of your PSAT/NMSQT, and we are available to guide, support, and encourage you throughout the process!


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