The decennial revisions to the PSAT and SAT standardized tests necessitate a revision in the conjectures about and preparation for achieving success. The 2012 blog post about the PSAT needs updating to reflect the new format of the test. Here’s what to expect for the upcoming Fall administration of the PSAT/NMSQT.
The new test has a few more questions and allots about 30 minutes more of testing time. The difficulty of questions is equivalent to previous administrations, but the format is significantly different. The vocabulary subsection has disappeared, and grammar questions are now presented in the context of a full article. Reading passages may contain graphics and visual aides similar to sidebars in magazines and newspapers. But the biggest change is in the scoring process; there is no longer a penalty for incorrect answers. The score is a reflection of only the number of questions answered correctly.
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.
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 2018 grads should be thinking about this opportunity right now. Many high schools offer a “practice” PSAT to sophomores. Those who demonstrate the potential to excel should double down on preparation immediately.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT IS WORTHWHILE TO STUDY FOR THE PSAT?
Recent changes to the PSAT and SAT tests have created a significant parallel to the ACT. For this reason, results from the first 3 ACT sections are a good predictor of PSAT prospects. The best source of practice samples, of course, would be the College Board, but the newness of the exams limits the availability of previous tests. A few examples of questions and a sample test can be found at www.collegeboard.org. Other prototypes offered by a variety of publishers may or may not be reflective of the real standardized test.
At Tutoring Resources, we suggest that students 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.
WHAT STUDY GOALS SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED?
Students identified at Tutoring Resources as potential National Merit scholars are invited to study for the PSAT beginning in the Spring of sophomore year. Each state has a unique cutoff for NM recognition, but in Illinois, we generally expect that a student cannot miss more than one question in each section in order to achieve a sufficient score for National Merit.
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.