7 PSAT Tips & Test Taking Advice

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

Many of the things a high school student must do to prepare for college is take placement tests, academic tests, and more. While there are many tests out there that a student needs to take, the PSAT is one of the more common tests available.

Many high school students, however, do not know how to prepare for the PSAT or what to expect. In this article, we will look at several PSAT test taking tips that are ideal for helping high school students prepare for this test and potentially land a great scholarship!

Taking the PSAT? Check out the best PSAT prep books that will improve your score!

PSAT Tip #1: Know the Difference

Before you can adequately prepare for the PSAT, you need to first understand what the PSAT is and how it differs from the SAT. The SAT is a standardized test for high school students that provides students admission into various colleges depending on the score and the college of choice. However, the PSAT is something else entirely.

The PSAT is a test that cannot get you into college, but it can put the student that takes the test into the running for something called the National Merit Scholarship. While this test cannot be used to provide admission into college, it can provide huge financial help for college, should the student score extremely high on the PSAT. This test is still important for students to take, even if it doesn’t provide admission into college like the SAT. 

How do the tests differ in terms of content? Well, the PSAT is shorter and does not have an essay. But beyond these minor discrepancies, there is not a whole lot of different between what you’re being tested on. This can be good news for you, especially if you begin prepping for the PSAT, as this will, in effect, get you brushed up and closer to rocking the SAT as well! Read more about the differences between these two tests in our article PSAT vs SAT.

Related: 12 Ideas on What to Do After High School

PSAT Tip #2: Set a Goal

Making our list of the top PSAT tips is setting a score goal. Before you begin your test and test prep, you should always come up with a good score goal as something to be working towards. Studies have shown that setting a goal for anything in life is a great way to prepare for a particular instance. The PSAT is no different.

If you are aiming to be awarded the National Merit Scholarship, then you will need to set your goal scores to near perfect, landing in the top 1% of all test takers. If, however, you are using the PSAT to indicate how well you will do on the SAT, then you will need to look at your target colleges and what kind of test scores they accept.

PSAT Tip #3: Practice on PSATs

Utilizing official PSAT practice tests is one of the most important PSAT tips we can offer you. To understand timing, what kind of questions you will experience, as well as difficulty of questions and when you need to either guess or move on, you must practice with official PSAT practice tests.

Because the PSAT had some changes in 2015, there are not a lot of current practice tests to choose from, but here are a few to start off with that are free:

Kaplan Free PSAT Practice Test

Free Online PSAT Practice Test

Official PSAT Practice Test 1

Official PSAT Practice Test 2

If you are still looking for more official PSAT practice tests, check out our list of 11 Free PSAT Practice Tests.

PSAT Tip #4: Analyze Your Mistakes

One way to learn from your PSAT and SAT tests is by analyzing your past mistakes on the test and work on the areas where you are lacking in skill. For example, if you find that you continue getting questions wrong in Math, studying harder for these weaker areas can help ensure that you know more information when you go in to take the second test. The best way to see where you are lacking is to look at your individual scores. Often, they will be broken down into sections according to the areas of study like Math, Science, and English. Once you have your areas of study where you did not perform quite so well, you can take the information and put more time into your studies or consider seeking out a tutor.

Once you’ve narrowed down what you need to focus on, consider investing in a PSAT study guide to do any last-minute studying.

PSAT Tip #5: Practice on official SATs

One of the best PSAT test-taking tips is to use the SAT as a practice test for the real deal. Taking the practice SATs multiple times can help you prepare for the PSAT, since, as we discussed, don’t have a whole lot of difference between them! We recommend utilizing as many official SAT practice tests as possible, since these are going to be the closest thing to what you will actually see on the PSAT as well as the SAT. 

Where to start? College Board offers some free SAT practice tests so that you can get working on the real thing:

SAT Practice Test 1

SAT Practice Test 2

If that’s not enough for you, you can also check out this list of official SAT practice tests.

Keep in mind, while working through these official PSAT and SAT practice tests, you should be simulating real test taking conditions. That means timing yourself as well as only taking breaks when designated. This is going to get your endurance up as well as help you understand how quickly you need to work to finish the test.

PSAT Tip #6: Get Comfy with Your Calculator

Part of the PSAT is the math portion of the test. However, in order to perform well on the math portion of the test, using a calculator is almost a given. Since the test has advanced mathematics questions involved, it almost seems impossible to take the test without a calculator. If you walk into the test with a calculator that you are not comfortable using, chances are you’re not going to perform well on the test at all.

One of the best PSAT tips that often go undiscussed is to get extremely comfortable with your calculator, so you are prepared to use it come time for the math portion of the test. This means using it in classes as well as working through your practice tests with this calculator. If you don’t have a calculator yet, you can start with this list of the top 6 PSAT calculators.

PSAT Tip #7: Read More

Just like having a calculator that you are comfortable with, the English portions of the PSAT is easier when you’re comfortable reading and comprehending sections of text. One way to prepare for the reading portion is to read as much as you can before your test. Reading more can help boost the reading comprehension that is needed in order to pass the reading portion of the test as well as keep your mind sharp for when test day arrives. The more you read, the more you can understand the content and better answer the questions you will be asked. Not a huge bookworm? Don’t worry. Simply reading a short story or two a day can help you improve your reading comprehension for the PSAT.

Here is a great list of some top fiction books you can read that will also help to indirectly prepare you for the SAT.

Taking the PSAT is a common element of the high school checklist before graduation. While the PSAT will not help you gain admission to a college, it can help you enter to win the National Merit Scholarship that will help towards the tuition of the college of choice. The PSAT is a great test for providing students with a chance to earn a national scholarship that can be beneficial for their college education as well as feel more prepared and ready for the SAT. Using these PSAT test taking tips can help you dominate this standardized test.