Thursday, August 9, 2012


Why think about the PSAT?
There is no greater honor for a high school senior than to be nominated, selected, chosen, recognized as a National Merit Scholar.  The only way to win the honor which represents the very pinnacle of student achievement is to get an outstanding score on the PSAT in  October of Junior year of high school.  The path to that accolade begins long before the actual distinction, however, perhaps as early as fourth or fifth grade.

How does the elementary education impact results on the PSAT?
The simple answer is VOCABULARY.  On the PSAT, two separate vocabulary assessments are included in the two Critical Reading sections.  Missing just 4 of these questions could knock a test taker out of the running by lowering the raw score by 5 points.

At Tutoring Resources we encourage high ability students to begin expanding recognized vocabulary even before entering Middle School.  “Recognized” basically means listening vocabulary; the student doesn’t need to use the words in normal speech or even written work, but hearing the word should create a usable meaning which can be described out of context.   

Vocabulary can be improved regardless of the student’s grade.  Potential National Merit scholars should develop a plan to expand word skills.  A few suggestions include “SAT Word-a-Day” available free online, any one of several commercial programs, avid reading (with a dictionary close by), prefix/suffix knowledge, and listening closely to educational tv programs in search of college-level terminology.  Word-a-Day (or -Week or -Month) projects  can be family activities to benefit siblings of all ages and parents as well.  My grandmother, who learned English after the age of 30, continued to explore vocabulary well into her 90s by recording new words as she ran across them and looking them up later.

When should study for PSAT and National Merit begin in earnest?
The PSAT test serves as a qualifier for National Merit recognition only when taken in October of junior year.  Some students begin preparation in Middle School, others after completing Algebra 2, and a few as they enter eleventh grade.  All 2014 grads should be thinking about this opportunity right now.  Those with the potential to excel should double down on preparation immediately.

How do you know if it is worthwhile to study for the PSAT? 
Take one of the REAL ACT tests out of the study manual of the same name.  Individual section scores over 30 on the English, Math, and Reading portions are good indicators of the necessary foundational knowledge.  Because the structure of the two national tests is noticeably different, the study goal should be to fortify content experience while practicing test taking skills unique to the PSAT/SAT.

A sample SAT score can also serve to motivate a student to strive toward PSAT success.  The scoring protocol parallels the PSAT, and scores of 700 or higher indicate a high probability of sufficient background knowledge to warrant enhanced study toward the October test.

What study goals should be established? 
Students identified at Tutoring Resources as potential National Merit scholars are invited to study for the PSAT.  For Illinois students, to accommodate possible anxiety on test day, we set homework goals that would result in a minimum PSAT score of 220, slightly higher than the 216 cut off established last year .

What if I don’t get picked to continue the National Merit qualification process?

As a certifiable academic, I will never be convinced that learning is not worthwhile.  With that prejudice in mind, I would argue that recognizing a high scholastic aptitude is a reward in itself.  Striving toward the coveted academic award has its own compensation in terms of personal satisfaction and ultimate success on national college entrance exams.  Winning a National Merit Scholarship is the icing on the cake but only a small part of the whole experience.


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