The PSAT Test: Why Take It?         

The PSAT test, also referred to as the PSAT/NMSQT, is given all across the country in October every year.  Why is that an important thing for students and their parents to know?  Read below to find out.

You probably have seen announcements about a student being named a National Merit Finalist and qualifying for scholarships for college, sometimes huge scholarships.  This whole process was set in motion when the student took the PSAT/NMSQT during October of their junior year in high school. 

But before we get into specific details, I want to make sure that you know what all those letters stand for so the whole process will make more sense to you.  The PSAT part stands for Preliminary SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), meaning that it is a good indication of what the SAT college admissions test is like. The NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  So when I talk about the PSAT, I'm really talking about the PSAT/NMSQT, which is one test that serves two different purposes.

Now certainly the possibility of scholarship money is a good incentive for taking the PSAT, but there are some other reasons that should also be considered:

  • Taking the PSAT is excellent practice for the SAT, one of the college admissions tests students may take.  By taking the PSAT, you will become familiar with the type of questions and exact instructions you will see on the SAT.
  • You will receive information about your strengths and weaknesses with regard to skills necessary for success in college.  This information can guide you in focusing on those areas that need additional study and practice.
  • You will automatically receive valuable information from colleges, but only if you check "yes" to the Student Search Service.

So now you've decided it might be a good thing to take the PSAT.  What do you do next?  Here's a brief step-by-step process:

  • You must sign up for the PSAT at your high school or one in your community.  The test is given at the high schools, not at testing centers.  Online registration is not available for the PSAT.
  • Contact your high school guidance counselor or principal to get the specific information about the testing at your school.  You will need to find out how and when to register, the process for paying test fees, and the exact time and location that your school will give the test.  Also, be sure to ask your guidance office for a free copy of the Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT.  It will help you prepare for the exam.
  • The fee for the 2007 PSAT is $13.00.  However, some schools may charge an additional fee to help cover costs of administering the exam. If you want to take the exam and can't afford the test fee, ask your counselor for information about a possible fee waiver available from the College Board, the governing organization of the test.
  • If you are a homeschooled student, you should contact the counselor or principal at a local high school to make arrangements to take the PSAT at their school.  Be sure to do this well in advance of the October test date, preferably during the previous summer.
  • If you are in the 10th grade, you should know that many high schools allow 10th graders to take the PSAT for practice.  If this option in offered at your school, I highly recommend that you take advantage of it.  Your score won't count toward qualifying for scholarships (only your score in the 11th grade counts for that) but the actual experience of taking the exam can be a huge asset when you do take the exam during your junior year.

Now, suppose you took the PSAT in October and you think you did really well.  How will you get your scores and find out if you qualify for a scholarship?

  • PSAT scores are mailed to your school in December.  Each school decides exactly how and when they release the score reports to students.  If you are a home schooled student, your score report will be sent directly to your home address.
  • If your score on the PSAT qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship Program, you will be notified by your school in September of your senior year.

Now that you know the who-what-when and where of the PSAT, it's time for you to get prepared for the test.  You might want to start with the Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT.  As I mentioned before, you can get it from your guidance counselor's office and it is free.

There are several good test prep resources available to help you in your preparation for the PSAT.  I recommend any of the following (some of these are specific publications, but I have found all materials by Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Barrons to be really good):

But remember, the best test prep materials on the market won't help you unless you use them!  Practice, review, and developing your test taking strategies can make a big difference in what that score report will show in December.  Good luck on your test!

More resources on the PSAT test:




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