As many of you already know, PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. What many people might not believe, though, is that “Preliminary” is the most important word in that title. Sophomores and juniors take the PSAT to prepare for the SAT exam, and that preparation is exactly what the PSAT is designed for.
The PSAT helps students determine what sections of the test they need to work on, what kind of score they could expect on the SAT, what SAT questions will look like, how to manage timing on the test, how to handle high-pressure situations, and a host of other things.
Each of these facets is important, and using the PSAT to get familiar with them can be a big boon to students’ scores come test day.
However, it’s crucial to not let the PSAT become a bigger deal than it really is. Except for those rare students in the top 1% of scorers that qualify for National Merit Scholarships, PSAT scores are only important to one person: the person who took the test. Even for those high-scoring students, the PSAT’s primary function is to get students ready for the SAT – the test that truly matters for college admissions.
PSAT scores are designed to help you do better on the real SAT. They are not meant to be a complete reflection on your academic ability or future success in college. For that reason, you should not stress out about the PSAT at all. The scores are meant to get you acclimated with your strengths and weaknesses; they aren’t intended to crush your confidence and make you overly worried about the SAT. When students get nervous before taking the PSAT, or worried after finding out their scores, that represents a real misunderstanding of the role of the PSAT.
To see why it’s totally fine to not treat the PSAT as a life-or-death occurrence, here’s how I approached the PSAT 2 years ago when I took it (yes, it was the old PSAT that corresponded to the 2400 scale SAT, but the general principles of the PSAT’s importance remain the same):
A few days before the PSAT, I looked over a review packet my school gave me and completed and scored the timed practice sessions. The night before, I looked over the practice test, reviewed a little vocab, and went to bed. It was pretty light studying, but I was feeling good – not stressed out at all. I took the test the next day and it seemed like it went well, but when I got my scores back, I had done a lot worse than I thought. Even still, I knew that that my score didn’t really matter, and while it did frustrate me a little bit, I refused to get stressed out and decided to keep a positive attitude as I got to work preparing for the real SAT.
Using my struggles on the PSAT as a framework for studying for the new SAT, I scored an equivalent of 430 points better on the SAT than I did on the PSAT. That’s an incredibly wide disparity, and it proves that a mediocre PSAT score is definitely not the end of the world.
Keep in mind that stress will make your score worse and increase the already enormous amount of pressure you probably feel to get into college. Your score will not be an accurate depiction of what your real SAT score could look like – the score you’d get with a positive attitude and calm demeanor.
So, how should you approach the PSAT? For starters, don’t act as if your future depends on it. Pro tip: it really doesn’t. It’s also important to remember that you can always bounce back from a sub-par PSAT score, and that the test is valuable for a lot more than just a score.
Think of the PSAT as a free check-up – a great way to practice for the real test that also provides a gauge of how you can expect to do on it. When you think of the PSAT like this, you’ll realize that there isn’t much to worry about. You don’t need to spend weeks studying for it, and you definitely don’t need to feel any anxiety about it. Just get acquainted with the test, do some review, and go take a test that only has the potential to help you.
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By Aidan Calvelli.