The PSAT: The Test No One Should Take

Matt Larriva
Nov 14, 2021
Home » Blog » The PSAT: The Test No One Should Take

Every year we get inundated with calls asking for help prepping for the PSAT. Our first response is always the same:

Why are you taking the PSAT?

After a brief pause the conversations go one of four ways:

I just want to see how I would do on the SAT.

To which we typically reply:

Then why not take a practice SAT?

The PSAT is a different format, duration, and difficulty from the SAT itself, so the PSAT is actually not a good indicator of your SAT score.

The best predictor of your SAT score is a practice SAT, which you can take for free, at your convenience, and without having a potentially weak score become part of your permanent record.

I want to be a National Merit finalist.

A better way to look at it:

The PSAT is a qualifying test, and a high enough score will get you the chance to become a National Merit Finalist or Semi-Finalist.

While this is a noble goal, remember that out of the over 1.4 million students who took this test in 2014, only 16,000 moved on to the Semi-Finalist level, and only 7,600 of those became Finalists.

Only you know your student’s abilities, but if he/she doesn’t have a history of scoring in the top half-percent on all tests, then the PSAT will probably not be a rewarding experience.

I want to get on college’s radars.

What you should do instead of taking the PSAT:

Let the College Board send out your SAT results.

This will accomplish the same thing and will avoid you having to prep for the PSAT, while also allowing your scores to show up to colleges of your choice nearer the time you’ll be applying. Learn why this is important in our guide, How To Get Into The Ivy League.

My school is making me.

A fun bit of advice:

Sleep through the test. History usually remembers peaceful protesters fondly.

What Should I Do Instead of Taking The PSAT?

In our article, PSAT Scores and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Scores: How to Make Sense of Them, we noted:

Powerful Prep has long held that the PSAT and its derivatives are over-hyped and distracting tests. As proxies for real SAT scores, PSAT scores are woefully off and largely unnecessary. If you’d like to see what you would score on an SAT, then take an SAT in a practice setting. At best the PSAT will give you a ballpark estimate of your score, and at worst it will give you a false sense of security or dread.

We believe so strongly in this that we actually stopped offering PSAT test prep services back in 2015. Now, it is only under very certain circumstance where we will work with students to prep for the PSAT, such as if the student is a strong candidate for a National Merit. And even then, it’s important that the PSAT studies do not detract from SAT test prep.

What we recommend instead of taking the PSAT is to concentrate on SAT or ACT test prep, which will better serve you come time to apply to colleges whether they are Ivy League or not.

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