PSAT woes? Look no further: tips from a National Merit Semifinalist


No matter what score you get, just remember: you are more than just a number. Unfortunately, according to most college testing corporations, that’s all you are. Here’s a guide to being the highest number you can be.

The PSAT is a test of how well one takes tests. That’s all it is.

By a certain time in studying, you should have at least some proficiency in every subject tested. At this point, practice tests are the most efficient way to improve. The more practice questions you look at, the more familiar you are with the test, the more potential you have to do well. Think about it: someone learning Italian solely via textbooks will fare far worse in Italy compared to someone who supplements his or her learning with constant conversation in said language.

When you take these practice tests, make the experience as similar as possible to the actual testing environment. Try to practice with paper tests  and time them according to actual regulations. Speed comes with experience and familiarity.

Miscellaneous Tips

Tip 1: Study using SAT preparation material. While more difficult, it will better prepare yourself for the PSAT in October. Plus, it saves you money once you start studying for the SAT. When you sign up for the PSAT, you will (hopefully) get a small study-guide with a practice test along with answer explanations. This is a great way to become as familiar with the test as possible before test day.

Tip 2: Grid-Ins are different from multiple-choice questions. You have to fill in the answer! Many people forget to answer these or are intimidated by them and as a result, their score goes down. Remember to answer them. They are the same format as those on the SAT and the AP Biology exam. However, if you are running out of time, do not answer these. Spend the remaining few seconds guessing on multiple choice questions. They are weighted the same!

Tip 3: As much as you would like to, do not engage with Twitter test memes. Why risk voiding your test? Whether or not College Board actually follows through with its threats, it is smart to keep your PSAT experience to yourself.

Tip 4: If you are unsure of an answer, plug the other answer choices into the question and see if any of them work. This is especially important in the calculator-permitted section of the math section. Try to obtain the best calculator you can, too–most graphing calculators are permitted on the exam. If you don’t have one, borrow from a friend. A calculator is better than no calculator!

Tip 5: There is always at least one wrong part of each incorrect answer choice, especially in the reading section. If a potential answer has even one word that is not fully consistent with the passage, it’s wrong. You will also be expected to choose correct supporting evidence for certain multiple choice answers, too. Practice with SAT reading sections.

Tip 6: Sit somewhere where you can easily see the clock. This is crucial for pacing yourself. Time yourself while practicing so you know approximately which question you should be on for any given section. A seat far away from potential cheaters and close to the clock is most optimal.

Take this test seriously. Seriously.

While the PSAT holds next to no weight towards your future, it is a bad idea to treat it as such. This test is the best analogue to an SAT administration date that you will probably ever be able to participate in. The stress, anxiety and fear that you may feel now will be easier to cope with later on. The PSAT is the SAT, only with slightly easier questions and a slightly different scoring system. However, unlike the SAT, doing well on the PSAT can directly lead to winning thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Thousands.

Whether or not you are satisfied with your score when you get the report in December, it does not define you. Some arbitrary number that some corporation has typed next to some arbitrary identification number means little in the marathon of life. Put it in perspective.



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