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Preparing for the 2013 PSAT


Every October, most high school juniors (and some sophomores) take the PSAT.  Short for Preliminary SAT, the PSAT is exactly that — a shorter version of the SAT that most students take before they take the actual SAT.  Questions on the PSAT are similar to those on the SAT, covering critical reading, math, and writing.   The PSAT, however, is scored out of 240 points, only takes 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete, and does not have an essay.

Also, a student’s PSAT score doesn’t count for college admissions.  That last fact is why many of my students tell me that they blew off the test, or forgot their calculator, or gave up halfway through that really boring reading passage on the feeding habits of bats.  Yes, it’s true, their scores on the PSAT won’t affect which colleges they get into.  However, I still encourage students to take the PSAT seriously for several reasons:

1) Your performance on the PSAT is a good predictor of your performance on the SAT.

When you take the PSAT, the College Board is giving you a sneak preview of your SAT score.  Because PSAT questions are so similar to SAT questions, you can expect to get about the same score on both tests (just add a zero to the end of your PSAT score).  If you blow off the PSAT, you’re giving up the chance to see how you’d score on the SAT and adjust your approach accordingly.  Did you get that low PSAT score because you genuinely struggled with the test material, or because you got bored?  Don’t underestimate the importance of this feedback!

2) Taking the PSAT in a real testing environment boosts your confidence.

Even though colleges don’t see your PSAT score, most students still feel some nerves and pressure on PSAT test day.  It’s inevitable when you’re surrounded by hundreds of other students hopped up on adrenaline!  You’ll feel the same way when you take the SAT.  The more chances you have to get nervous in a testing environment and deal with your emotions effectively, the more your confidence will increase. (This is why AJ Tutoring encourages all of our students to take proctored SATs at our office on Saturdays!)  If you take the PSAT seriously, allow yourself to get nervous, and take the test anyways, you’re that much closer to confidently scoring your best when it counts on the SAT.

3) The PSAT gives you valuable experience with SAT questions.

Because PSAT and SAT questions cover the same content at similar levels of difficulty, taking the PSAT lets you know what you can expect on the SAT.  Students usually have not encountered anything like SAT questions in their schoolwork, and they can be blindsided by tricky function questions on the math section or convoluted sentences in the writing section.  If you’ve taken the PSAT and seen those questions before, you’ll get a leg up on preparing for the SAT and you’ll know what to expect on test day.

4) High scorers can earn National Merit recognition from their PSAT performance.

If you’re one of those 99th percentile test takers, the PSAT might be your ticket to a National Merit scholarship and an advantage in college admissions.  The National Merit program recognizes high scores on the junior year PSAT with several designations — Semifinalist, Finalist, and Scholarship winner.  Only the top 1% of students from each state are chosen to be National Merit semifinalists.  If you have the potential to score high enough to get National Merit recognition, don’t pass up the chance to take the PSAT!

Whether you anticipate a stellar performance on the PSAT or you’re just hoping to not bomb the test, I encourage you to take it seriously.  Good luck!


The PSAT will be administered on October 16 and 19, 2013.  Looking for last-minute PSAT prep?  AJ Tutoring offers a short 3-session PSAT tutoring program to familiarize you with the test.  Email info@ajtutoring.com or call (650) 331-3251 for more information!

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