The Good and Bad of the PSAT for the Average Test Taker

(If you missed the article on the PSAT for National Merit Scholarships, you can find it here.)

Most students will take the PSAT this October with no expectation of earning National Merit recognition for high scores. For the average test taker the PSAT presents an opportunity to practice testing, identify strengths and weaknesses, and begin incorporating standardized test results into the college search process—all positive outcomes. But the PSAT can include some negative consequences that students and parents should understand.

The PSAT or Preliminary SAT is given each October. For the highest scoring students, the PSAT offers prospects of National Merit recognition, but for the other 90-95% of test takers, it is just a practice test. This is both good and bad.

The Good

There are a lot of good things students and families can gain by participating in the PSAT.

Good: Colleges never use PSAT scores to make admissions decisions. This means a student can get an honest snapshot of his or her anticipated SAT scores without worry that those scores will be sent to colleges later in the admissions process.

Good: PSAT results show students’ strengths and weaknesses in testing and offer suggestions for improvement.

Good: PSAT scores are now on a similar scale to the SAT scores so families can compare results with the averages at colleges they consider. Remember the new SAT is back to two sections: reading / writing and math. Scores range from 200 to 800 per section, so the new perfect score is 1600.

Because the PSAT is just a little shorter (15 minutes) and a little easier (couple fewer questions and not quite as many really hard ones) the scores are scaled downward. Students can score between 160 and 760 on the PSAT. The missing 40 points per section are intended to show students there is still some work to be done between the PSAT and the SAT.

Students can use PSAT scores for comparison as they learn more about college admissions requirements. A 10th grader who scored a 720 in reading / writing (R/W) and a 460 in math can compare those results to the average scores at schools on her list:

  • Elon University (NC): 610-690 (R/W) & 580-670 Math
  • William & Mary (VA): 680-750 (R/W) & 650-760 Math
  • Stanford (CA): 730-790 (R/W) & 730-800 Math
  • Elizabethtown College (PA): 540-660 (R/W) & 530-640 Math
  • Texas State: 500-600 (R/W) & 510-580 Math

This student can quickly conclude that her math score needs work. Obviously, a student in 9th or 10th grade who has not completed Algebra I and Geometry will improve simply by gaining the basic concepts taught in class. Some families will conclude that high quality test prep is appropriate. Having actual numbers from the PSAT gives significance to college admissions statistics for many families and allows for timely planning if improvements are needed.

Good: Around the country more high schools are administering the PSAT during the school day, making it a convenient time for all students to practice. Schools and districts have the choice of a Saturday or Wednesday administration of the test. By giving the PSAT during school more students are included.

By contrast, fifteen years ago many districts in my area gave the PSAT on a Saturday morning. This meant participation was limited to those students who had transportation and the initiative to show up at school at 8:00 a.m. on the weekend.

Good: Because the PSAT if often given during school, students grades 9-11 are encouraged to take the exam. This means more students have an idea of what the SAT will look like before they reach that crucial testing time junior year. High scoring students can be identified in 9th or 10th grade in time to prepare for the PSAT in 11th grade. And families can begin using scores sooner—both for test prep and college planning. If your high school does not encourage participation for 10th graders, don’t worry; there are suggestions at the end of this article to help you get these same benefits without having to take the official PSAT.

The Bad

Taking the PSAT is not all good. There are some potential drawbacks families should understand.

Bad: More testing (or practice) is not always better. Some students are further ingraining bad test taking habits. Many parents believe that if there student can just take enough practice tests, he or she will improve, but this isn’t the case. Students who continue to approach the PSAT (SAT or ACT) the same way are proven to earn similar scores. In my experience, students are often “perfecting” bad habits rather than learning from mistakes.

Bad: For students with test anxiety, the PSAT can be terrifying. In these cases, the potential risks of having a bad experience on the PSAT may not be worth any of the benefits. Obviously we want students to feel prepared when they take the SAT as juniors, but taking the PSAT with a group at school may not be the best way to help a student who has already demonstrated issues with test anxiety.

Bad: PSAT scores are not available for months. In 2015 students received their scores in January. This means that by the time results are available, students have completely forgotten what they did on test day, undermining potential to learn from one’s mistakes.

Bad: (This is a big one!) In the past few years College Board has gotten much stricter about cheating. (Headline worthy scandals prompted some of these changes.) Currently students who show “too much” improvement from one test to the next may have their improved scores referred to the office of testing integrity (in other words, the office of “we think you cheated.”) Once scores are called into question, students have little recourse other than taking anther SAT under supervised conditions to prove the better score was genuine.

How does this relate to the PSAT? College Board has used PSAT results as points of comparison. The problem I have with this is that too many students don’t take the PSAT seriously. They don’t take any steps to prepare and show up to school with the idea that “It’s just practice and it doesn’t count toward anything.” In fact, some students are only taking the PSAT because it gets them out of classes for the morning. Unfortunately these “practice scores” could be used against a student later when his or her SAT score shows improvement so significant that the College Board questions the validity of those SAT results.

Ideas & Alternatives

First, talk with your high school student about the PSAT. Make sure he or she understands that scores are for practice, but should be taken seriously.

My daughter is in 10th grade and we have discussed how the PSAT can help us see her strengths and weaknesses and decide if it is worth preparing for next year’s exam in hopes of qualifying for National Merit recognition. She understands this isn’t a test for which she needs to stress-out or spend hours preparing. (Hopefully she will have time to work some practice questions after the speech and debate tournament this weekend.) But she understands that on October 19, she needs to give the PSAT her full attention.

If your student is going to experience undue anxiety about testing, speak to your school counselor about an alternative. Or keep your child home from school that morning. As a parent, you know what is best in this case and if the stress of one more standardized test outweighs the benefits, don’t take the PSAT.

If your high school isn’t offering the PSAT or your child is unable to take it due to schedule conflicts or illness, you have other ways to obtain the benefits of PSAT practice. Take the practice PSAT at home under timed conditions. Hopefully you have received PSAT Practice Test #2 from your school’s guidance counselor. If not, ask for it. If the school doesn’t have one, you can use the PSAT Practice Test #1.

The benefits of taking an official College Board practice test some Saturday morning at your kitchen table are

  • It is free. You might have the cost of printing out the pages, but the test won’t cost you anything.
  • You can get your scores the same day. This is huge for the learning and improvement aspect of the test. When a student scores his or her own test then looks over the problems missed, he or she will gain more from the experience than taking a test in October and months later getting some number from College Board.
  • You can participate in the process. I’ve encouraged some parents to get a second copy of the test and take it alongside their student. Even if you don’t test your own abilities, you can participate in an active discussion on what to do to improve and how these results compare to the average scores at colleges in your area.

Of course, these alternatives are intended for the 95% of students who are not attempting to qualify for National Merit Scholarships by taking the PSAT. If you have a junior who is an ultra-high scoring test taker who may miss the PSAT due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances, you need to contact your high school guidance counselor an get in touch with National Merit ASAP to request an alternate method of consideration.

The PSAT is generally a good experience for average test takers. Take time to discuss the importance of taking the test seriously and spend time over the remainder of the school year using the results to maximize improvement and further your college research.

Posted in PSAT | Leave a comment

FAFSA Change: October 1 = Financial Aid for 2017


Today I want to list some actions you can take now that will make life easier throughout the rest of this school year improve your financial aid awards. This information is immediately relevant to families with high school seniors or current college students. If your child is younger, you may want to get ahead by understanding the process now.

Here’s the big news for 2016—the FAFSA application will open on Friday, October 1 this year. In the past families began the FAFSA in January while they tried to estimate their past year’s income tax information. Now you will use your already completed (hopefully!) 2015 tax return.

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step in the process of obtaining need-based aid from colleges and universities. The FAFSA is a means of evaluation. Completing the FAFSA is like being let in the front door. It doesn’t award you any aid but it’s your first step in the right direction.

Who gets financial aid? Should we apply?

Lots of people. Even middle-class and upper-middle-class families receive financial aid.

Financial aid is based in part on your family income / assets. The other factor in determining financial aid is the cost the college or university your child ultimately attends.

Financial aid is intended to cover the gap between the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the cost of a year’s education at a particular institution. A family with an EFC of $30,000 may not qualify for financial aid at a state university with an expected annual cost of $26,000. However, that same family would qualify for financial aid at the private university that costs $60,000 a year to attend.

How do we know if we qualify?

(Or, do we make too much money to apply?)

There are some online tools to help you estimate cost and financial aid. A good resource is the FAFSA4caster Of course, a lot of the equation depends on your family’s final college choice which may not be determined for months. So the first step in the application process is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

How can you submit the FAFSA?

You can save time and frustration by completing the FAFSA online at

There is an option to complete a paper copy of the FAFSA, but you are more likely to experience delays and data entry errors if you send in a paper application. In this day and age, even for people who don’t have regular Internet access at home, it is well worth completing the online FAFSA even if you need to use a computer at the local library, university, or high school.

How do you apply?

Step 1. You need to get a FSA ID which takes the place of the old pin number. This ID allows you to electronically access and sign your FAFSA application. The process should take less than 5 minutes and can be completed online at

Once you have a FSA ID put it somewhere where you will be able to safeguard it, but where you won’t forget or lose it before it’s time to file.

Step 2. Complete the FAFSA application. The window for submitting the FAFSA opens October 1st of a student’s senior year of high school. You will want to have these details handy:

  • Social Security Number (or Alien Registration Number)
  • 2015 federal income tax returns
  • Bank and investment statements
  • Records of any other income that may not be included on your tax return (untaxed income)

The FAFSA looks at student and parent finances, so have these documents handy for you and your student.

Step 3. Submit and wait. Once your data is processed, you will receive an SAR or Student Aid Report. The SAR is essentially a summary of the information you submitted in your FAFSA.

Verify the accuracy of the data and pay careful attention to your EFC– your Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount your family is expected to pay for college next year.

Step 4. Send your FAFSA results to all of the colleges on your list, complete any school specific aid forms, and wait. The FAFSA is the tool to start the process, but it does not award funds; individual schools do. Think of the FAFSA as one part of your application, like the SAT. Make sure you have completed all other required paperwork for financial aid at every college you are still considering. Contact financial aid departments if you have questions or special circumstances. Colleges should contact you with financial aid offers in the spring (and possibly in the fall once your are officially admitted.)

Do you need help completing the FAFSA?

If you can copy numbers from your bank statements and tax return, you can complete the FAFSA without paying someone to help. FAFSA questions about income will prompt you with the exact line numbers from your tax return, so you aren’t left guessing. Take a look at the FAFSA worksheet to see for yourself: If you want to pay for help, you can, but they can’t “find” you extra money; they will just enter your numbers and hit the submit button. You can do this.

Do it now!

The FAFSA starts holding your place in the financial aid line. If you submit it now (in October) you will be in the front of the line when colleges start distributing the “good” aid like grants, which do not need to be paid back. If you forget to fill out the FAFSA or wait until April when you find your son actually was admitted to that really expensive Ivy League school (yes, this happened to a former student of mine), you will find the only aid remaining is student loans.

Ask if you need help.

I’m not a financial guru or a CPA. When I have questions, I pick up the phone and ask for advice. I’ve gotten plenty of free help from college financial aid officers. Additionally, you will find a live chat feature on the FAFSA site to help with questions and most area community colleges offer sessions to help parents and students complete the FAFSA. If you need help, ask.

I’m glad to see the FAFSA timetable start earlier this year. I think it puts the financial process in line with the college application process and helps families with the reality of selecting schools that will ultimately be affordable.


Posted in Financial Aid / Scholarships | Leave a comment

Frequently Asked Questions about the PSAT and National Merit Scholarships

dollar sign in clouds

Every October, high school students across the country take the PSAT to practice for the SAT, which they will take their junior. What many students and parents don’t know is that the PSAT also can qualify students for National Merit Scholarships. National Merit Scholarships can provide students with anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full tuition at the college of their choice.

Next week I’ll discuss the PSAT as it relates to the typical student, but today’s article will focus on those amazing test takers who have the potential to qualify as National Merit Scholars.

How do students participate in the National Merit Scholarship program?

Students are automatically considered for National Merit Scholarships when they take the PSAT; no additional registration is required. Junior year is the only time PSAT results can qualify a student for the National Merit program, so freshmen or sophomores taking the PSAT will not be considered for National Merit recognition.

PSAT registration is done through high schools. Check with the guidance counselor at your local school for PSAT registration information. Homeschool students can contact any high school in their area to test.

Who can participate in the National Merit Scholarship program?

To participate in the National Merit Scholarship program, students need to take the PSAT their third year in high school. Participants must be citizens of the United States or be a lawful permanent resident with the intent to become a citizen at the earliest possible opportunity.

All students are welcome to take the PSAT, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t meet the above criteria. However, not all students who take the PSAT will be considered for the scholarships, even if they earn perfect scores.

What PSAT score do I need to qualify as a National Merit Scholar?

This is the big question and I wish I could give you a simple answer. The fact is, the qualifying score changes year to year and from state to state. (Confusing, I know!)

National Merit recognizes Commended Scholars and Semi-finalists based on junior year PSAT scores. The top 3 percent of students in each state receive recognition, but because the qualifying score is based on a percentage of total test-takers, the cutoff score is different in each state and changes from year to year.

Since the new format PSAT was given in October 2015 there has been a lot of speculation on what scores will be high enough. Guesses include Selection Index results from 195-205 and above. These numbers are just guesses. It will take another year before the qualifying scores from the 2015 PSAT are released to the public.

If you know a National Merit Semi-Finalist, you could ask what they scored. That may be seen as tacky— a bit like asking someone what they weigh— but sometimes high-scoring students don’t mind the opportunity to brag a little.

Here is the list of National Merit Semi-Finalists in my state, Texas. Check your local media outlets for lists in other states. (These results were released on Wednesday.)

How are National Merit scholarship winners determined?

Students who meet PSAT score qualifications will be notified by their high schools, and homeschool students will be notified at their home address. Unfortunately, some schools are less organized and may not notify you immediately which is why it helps to check the released list of finalists. (see here for Texas)

To proceed in the program and possibly receive scholarship money, students must submit academic records, a letter of recommendation, a personal essay, and the completed application. The National Merit Corporation reviews all applications and determines finalists and award winners.

The most common reason students do not advance from semi-finalists to finalists is a failure to apply on time. Other reasons applications are denied include grades in school which do not merit recognition (think lots of C’s, or some D’s and F’s), incomplete applications, poor character references (not just bland, but BAD), or the failure to provide an SAT score to substantiate a student’s PSAT performance.

What types of awards does the National Merit program give?

National Merit awards three types of scholarships: National Merit Scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarships, and college-sponsored scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarships are worth $2,500. Corporation-sponsored awards range from one-time payments of $2,500 to renewable awards up to $10,000 per year of college.

College-sponsored scholarships can be worth anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to full-tuition awards with housing and living expenses included. This is where the National Merit designation really pays off.

However, like many merit scholarships, institutional awards are based on supply and demand. Schools in high demand (Harvard, UT Austin, Stanford, etc.) don’t need to use scholarships as a “carrot” to attract highly qualified students. These schools are already in high demand. Look for National Merit awards at schools with stellar academic reputations, but less prestigious names or exciting locations. These are often the schools willing to offer full tuition and housing scholarships.

What if I missed the PSAT?

Students who meet participation requirements but miss the PSAT due to illness, emergency, or other extenuating circumstances may still participate in the National Merit Scholarship program. They will need to send a letter documenting their circumstance to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation as soon as possible. In most cases students will be given an opportunity to test for the program.

Famous Scholars

Famous National Merit Scholarship winners include John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s; Jeffrey Bezos, CEO of; Mitchell Daniels, Jr., governor of Indiana; Stephenie (Morgan) Meyer, author of the “Twilight” books; and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.

The National Merit Scholarship program offers 9,600 scholarships every year. Being a National Merit Scholar is an honor, and the potential for scholarship money is good if you have qualifying PSAT scores and are selected as a finalist. If you have additional questions about the program, check with your high school guidance counselor or visit the National Merit website:

Posted in PSAT | Leave a comment

When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary?


When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend asking what her senior son needed to do about the ACT. He was scheduled to take the exam this Saturday, which also happens to be homecoming. (No thanks to the school administrators who thought it was a good idea to schedule homecoming on the first ACT test date of the school year!)

My friend’s son took the SAT last spring and made an 1150. Should he push to take the ACT this Saturday and forgo some homecoming festivities or focus on October test dates with the option of doing additional test prep?

My answer might surprise you.

I told her to forget testing. Let him go out and have fun with his friends for his senior year homecoming and don’t bother taking the test again in October.

You see, additional testing isn’t always necessary, or recommended.

Background Information

First, my friend and her son have undergone considerable upheaval in their personal lives over the past few years. Test scores, or even college admission, haven’t been the family’s primary focus.

The son took the SAT, new format, last spring and scored an 1150. He would like to attend Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

Here is where a little research can really pay off.

Texas State, like many of the state universities here in Texas, has standards for automatic admission based on class rank and test scores. Before I could advise my friend on how to proceed with the ACT or SAT, it would help to know her son’s class rank. He is in the second quarter of his graduating class.

Here is what anyone could find on the Texas State admissions website:

Texas State University Automatic Admission 2016

Texas State University Automatic Admission 2016


You can see that a student in the second quarter needs the following scores for automatic admission:

Old SAT (reading plus math): 1010

New SAT: 1090

ACT: 22

So with no further testing this student with his 1150 on the new SAT already meets the entrance requirements for Texas State University.

Additional testing wasn’t necessary. This student could enjoy homecoming weekend and use the time he may have studied for the October ACT to complete his applications. What high school kid doesn’t have something better to do than take a standardized test?!!

When Is Another SAT or ACT Unnecessary

Obviously, the story of my friend’s son clearly shows additional testing was unnecessary. Here are some times where I would pass on the extra ACT or SAT:

  • When a student has met the criteria for automatic admission at his or her top choice school.
  • When a student has taken the exam three times and has already devoted significant time and effort to studying and test preparation.
  • When a student has exhausted all reasonable means of score improvement and sees little opportunity for improvement in taking the test again. (In other words, taking a class, working with a tutor, or studying more doesn’t offer much hope for improved scores.)
  • When time and energy are limited and a student has to choose between efforts spent on the application and effort spent on retesting. Typically this applies to seniors trying to do everything in the fall when a choice has to be made to prep for another test or work to develop a strong application because the student can’t do both.

The first scenario was easy; all goals can be met without higher test scores. The other scenarios are a little more complicated.

Over the years, after working with thousands of students, I found that there tends to be a limit to how much test prep will help a student increase his or her scores. At some point the student and his or her family need to turn attention from test scores to the actual application. A student may get more benefit out of 10 hours of focused effort on essay writing and application construction then she would get from studying and taking the ACT again.

When Is Another ACT or SAT Recommended

Because it can be a judgment call to take the ACT or SAT for a second, third, or possibly fourth time, here are some things to consider. One more test is recommended:

  • When a student is close to the score needed for one of his or her top choice schools. For me, close is up to 3 points on the ACT or up to 150 points on the SAT.
  • When the student is a junior and has only attempted one standardized test.
  • When standardized test scores are noticeably lower than a student’s grades. Another way of saying when the test scores draw attention to themselves because they are out of character with the rests of the application.
  • When a student would benefit from higher scores and hasn’t put much effort into score improvement.
  • When the student wants to retake. Even if actually unnecessary for admission, this test is more about the student working to achieve a personal goal.

Arguments for taking another exam are based on the need for higher scores, available time to retest, willingness to engage in some type of study or test preparation, and student interest in the process.

Just a Test

I’ve seen some parents and students confuse the issue by assigning meaning to the ACT and SAT that just isn’t there.

Whether a student chooses to take the ACT or the SAT, it is just a test. It does not predict success in college (or life.) It does not evaluate academic ability or what a student has learned. It is just a test—an important test for admissions, but just a test.

Additionally, college admissions officers are looking at ACT and SAT scores. They are not looking for more than standardized results in English, math, reading, and science. They don’t wonder why James scored lower in math when he took the September test. And they aren’t proud of Lauren for putting in the effort to take the test another time. Students show effort and dedication in course selection, classwork, and extracurricular activities. These are not traits colleges look to find in one’s ACT or SAT scores.


More isn’t always better, especially when it comes to the ACT and SAT.

Planning ahead and doing your research can really pay off. First, you might save the time, struggle, and cost of another standardized test. Second, you can significantly reduce stress around testing and college admissions by planning ahead. Third, you can use your college research to guide your ACT and SAT plans and goals. Finally, you can give yourself permission to stop chasing higher scores and focus on more meaningful activities.


I hope those students taking the ACT on Saturday morning are calm and focused so their scores are appropriate reflections of their abilities. I’ll be in the stands rooting for our high school football team at the homecoming game this weekend. I want all students to enjoy these celebrations responsibly.

Whether it is a high school homecoming celebration, college football season, or just a weekend with friends, remember that indulging in alcohol or drugs can lead to questionable behaviors that put lives and futures at risk. Have a safe fall!


Posted in ACT, College Admission, SAT | Leave a comment

Plan Your High School Testing Calendar Now

When should my daughter take the SAT?

Do we need to take the PSAT this year?

Are you sure juniors are ready take the ACT in the fall?

These questions and more fill my inbox this time each year. There are a lot of questions about what tests students should take and when. Here is a basic outline.

9th Grade

Freshman year is a time for students to adjust to the increased academic demands of high school. In addition to taking challenging classes, earning the best grades possible, and remaining involved in activities, students should work to build academic and organizational skills.

Many high school freshman will have NO testing to plan for this year. However, there are some exceptions.

Optional: PSAT (October) – The PSAT is purely for practice when administered to 9th grade students. Encourage your student to take it seriously and try his or her best so you can use the results to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

Optional: PreACT, formerly known as the PLAN (scheduled by schools Sept- May) – The PreACT, like the PSAT, is used to help students identify testing strengths and weaknesses. These scores are never used for college admission, so the test is just for practice.

Optional: Advanced Placement (AP) Exams (May) – Depending on the course offerings and policies of your school or district, freshman may have the opportunity to take AP courses. Students enrolled in AP classes should plan to take the exam for their subject(s) in May.

Your school’s guidance counseling department will coordinate registration for PSAT, PreACT, and AP exams.

10th Grade

Sophomore year is the time to build on the lessons learned in 9th grade. Students who eased into high school should consider stepping up — in academics, activities, or development of talents and interests.

10th grade is also the time to collect key testing data. Here’s what you should add to your calendar:

Must do: PSAT (October) – Yes, it is the practice SAT and it doesn’t “count” for sophomores, but this is the year to determine what type of test taker you are. Super test takers will use the PSAT in 10th grade to determine whether they are potential National Merit contenders as juniors. On the other end of the testing spectrum, families who receive below average PSAT results in 10th grade may want to rectify academic weaknesses in math, reading, grammar, vocabulary, and analysis.

Optional: Pre-ACT – (see notes from 9th grade)

Optional: AP Exam(s) – (see notes from 9th grade)

Optional: SAT Subject Tests (suggested May or June) – SAT Subject Tests are required or strongly recommended by certain colleges. But most sophomores don’t have a clear idea of the schools to which they will apply as seniors, so those students who are completing an academic class for which they will NOT take the next course in the sequence next year may consider taking the SAT Subject Test while course material is fresh in their minds. For example, a student who completes AP World History or AP US History as a sophomore may want to take the SAT Subject Test in May or June when all the AP exam material is fresh. That same student should NOT take the Subject Test in English or math because those are classes he or she will take again as a junior. For more information on SAT Subject Tests see here.

Students need to register for SAT Subject Tests directly with College Board. All other registrations will be coordinated through your school’s guidance counseling office.

11th Grade (The Time To Test!)

This is THE year for college admissions testing. The calendar for testing has accelerated from the time I was in high school, so don’t feel bad if you keep thinking junior year is early. It may have been early years ago, but it is the new norm.

PSAT (October) — As a junior the PSAT is either absolutely necessary or mostly worthless. Use your 10th grade results to determine in which category applies to you.

Absolutely necessary— extremely high scoring test takers MUST take the PSAT because junior year only the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT.) Test takers who fall in the top 5% of PSAT results in their states may qualify for National Merit recognition. Read here to find out why you want this.

Almost worthless — for the remaining 95% of test takers the PSAT is just another practice test. Here’s why I have a hard time telling families another practice test is worth the time and effort– PSAT scores won’t come back for three months. That’s three months of waiting to find out how you did. Three months of wasted time and forgotten mistakes.

A non-National Merit contender can take a free full-length SAT from College Board, score it the same day, and immediately begin to work on a plan to maximize strengths and improve weaknesses. If your school offers the PSAT during school and wants all juniors to take it, go ahead, unless you have a student with testing anxiety (and you may choose to miss that “opportunity.”)

Must do: ACT or SAT (Sept – June) — I’ve got full articles on this issue, so I’ll give you the short version here and give some links for further reading.

  • Students can take either the SAT or ACT or both. Gone are the days when the hard to get into colleges only take one exam. Even the Ivy League schools allow students to decide which test to submit.
  • Students typically take their choice test two or three times. Colleges use best scores.
  • Students should take the test when it fits in their schedules. This may mean baseball team members take the ACT in the fall so spring is free for sports; marching band students wait until spring to test so they don’t need to worry about the football schedule keeping them out until midnight the night before the SAT.
  • Students won’t learn enough test content in school to matter. (Unfortunately!) Believe me on this one, juniors know enough in the fall to take the exam. If you need more help, look to a quality prep class, but don’t wait for English or math class to help you catch up.

For more detailed explanations see these past articles:

When Should I Take the ACT / SAT?

ACT or SAT: Which Test Is Better? 

Do You Need to Take the SAT for College?

SAT Subject Tests & AP Exams— see notes from 10th grade

Here’s where getting your calendar out now can make your junior year plan run smoothly. Pick your test: ACT or SAT. Pick your first test date for the year. Plan for a follow up test opportunity later this school year. Get your dates on the calendar. Register with ACT or SAT and you will avoid last minute panic caused by the May SAT conflicting with prom and the June test falling on the first day of your family’s cruise.

12th Grade

If you have worked through your 11th grade plan, senior year is all about college applications and acceptances and you are test free except for AP exams. Of course, some seniors feel like a final chance at the SAT or ACT could boost their acceptance chances and they will take the September or October tests.

A had a colleague whose mantra was effort spent on planning during a student’s junior year will save five times the amount of time, energy, and sometimes money senior year. Develop a testing plan now so you don’t need to panic or make last minute reactionary decisions later.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.


Posted in ACT, PSAT, SAT | Leave a comment