By Evan Bailyn
The first standardized test most students encounter on the road to college is the PSAT. It serves two major purposes: as a "dress rehearsal" for the SAT, and as an opportunity to win a National Merit Scholarship.
What is the PSAT like?
The PSAT assesses knowledge and skills that students have acquired both in and out of the classroom. While the PSAT is not an exact replica of the SAT, it serves as an excellent introduction to the skills you'll need to do well on the SAT I, as well as on the SAT II writing test. The PSAT has verbal and math questions similar to those on the SAT I, and the PSAT writing skills section is similar to the SAT II in its writing section.
How should I prepare?
The answer to this question depends on your goals. If you are vying to become a merit scholar, you should prepare for this exam about 75% as much as you would prepare for the SAT I. If not, then you should prepare between 25% and 50% as much, knowing that your score only matters in terms of predicting your future SAT performance. If you want to invest additional time (and money) preparing, there are several commercial PSAT test preparation books available at your local bookstore as well as PSAT prep courses offered by private companies. If you are really worried about the PSAT, take it before your junior year so you'll know exactly what skills you will need to work on when you take it again.
How is it scored?
The College Board sends your PSAT scores to your school, and they are usually available to you after Thanksgiving. The report includes three scores, one for each section: verbal, math, and writing. The score for each section ranges from 20 to 80. To convert these scores to SAT I scores, simply add a zero. Your score report will include feedback about which areas you need to work on to improve your scores. In addition, it will indicate whether you are eligible to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition.
Time for the floodgates to open
When you register for the PSAT you have the option of authorizing The College Board to release some information about you to colleges for their recruiting efforts. Colleges may request a list of students who have scores within a certain range or who live in certain area. If you are an above-average student, you could receive more than a thousand pieces of mail from colleges between the time you take the PSAT and your acceptance of an offer of admission!
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