Helping Your Kids With PSAT Prep

The PSAT comes earlier than you think. Most students take this crucial test during the first half of their sophomore year of high school, although some students take it as early as seventh grade. The PSAT is intended to give students a taste of the SAT test they’ll be facing at the end of high school, but it also serves another important purpose: to identify students who qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program. That is why this test is often called the PSAT/NMSQT, or the “Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.”

Every scholarship opportunity represents a potential possibility for your child. Fewer than 1% of the students who take the PSAT will receive a National Merit Scholarship, but it is still important to fully prepare your child for this important test, both for the scholarship possibility and to prepare for the SAT work that is just around the corner.

1. Take a practice PSAT

Even though the PSAT is meant as a “practice SAT,” it’s also important to practice for the PSAT. Even if your child is familiar with standardized testing, he or she may never have encountered a test quite as rigorous or lengthy as the PSAT. There may be unfamiliar directions to learn, or different types of questions to encounter.

Look for a practice PSAT from a test prep company or online. After taking the test, talk with your child about the scores. Where did your child do well? Which areas need improvement? Make sure to talk about the test mechanics as well: Which parts were difficult to understand? Were there any frustrating areas? What did your child learn about the test’s directions and rules?

2. Start one-on-one tutoring

Once you know how your child fared on the practice PSAT, it’s time to start tutoring. Unlike school-based PSAT prep programs, which focus primarily on following directions and multiple-choice guessing strategies, tutoring programs are designed to fit the needs of your child. As the Huntington PSAT prep program notes: the advantage of a one-on-one tutoring program is that it is designed to focus on your child’s personal strengths and weaknesses, and help your child bring up his or her test score.

Even if you don’t think your child will be in the top 1% of students who receive the National Merit Scholarship, other colleges often look at PSAT scores to help them determine which students to recruit, and how to distribute scholarship resources. According to the US News and World Report: “The PSAT is a tool many colleges and universities use to identify students they think may make a good addition to their student body and who may be deserving of scholarships.”

One-on-one tutoring can help bring your child’s PSAT scores up to a level more reflective of his/her potential. Then other colleges and universities can use that information to offer your child opportunities and scholarships. PSAT tutoring also helps prepare your child for the even more important SAT down the line.

3. Prepare for test day

Taking a practice PSAT from the family computer, or working one-on-one with a tutor in a calm environment, is different than actually taking the PSAT on test day. The testing room may be uncomfortable, crowded, noisy, or overly hot/cold. Since the PSAT is often administered at the school itself, not at an official testing center like the SAT, students may end up taking their PSAT in the library, in the lunchroom, or in an auditorium.

Talk to your child — or ask your tutor to talk to your child — about test day strategies. What should you do if the chair is uncomfortable or slippery? How will you stay focused if the school bells ring every hour? Helping your child visualize the testing environment and describe what he or she will do to combat distractions is an important part of PSAT prep.

4. Support your child throughout

Some students will win National Merit Scholarships as a result of their performance on the PSAT, but most won’t. Many students will garner interest from colleges and universities because of their scores, but some will be disappointed. No matter what happens to your child, be prepared to support his or her efforts.

A poor score on the PSAT does not mean your child will never get into a good college or university. The SAT and ACT are the scores that actually factor in admissions decisions, and a good PSAT score only means that schools will send your child promotional materials, not actual college acceptances. On the other hand, a high score often starts opening doors.

Either way, be prepared to support and congratulate your child after he or she finishes this important test, the first step on the road to college and beyond.

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