Why Take the PSAT

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

The PSAT is a standardized test generally taken by high school sophomores and juniors before they take the SAT. As a “preliminary” test, the PSAT is a way of preparing for the content and difficulty level of the SAT. PSAT questions are formulated to reflect the questions you’ll see on an SAT, but for the most part, the scores aren’t considered by colleges. So why take the PSAT? Are there benefits beyond a trial run for the SAT? Why does the PSAT matter? Don’t worry, we’ve got some pretty good answers to these questions!

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Why Take the PSAT? Here are Six Great Reasons:

Good test scores can lead to a National Merit Scholarship

The PSAT is the test which can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship Program, or NMSP. In 2014, three percent of 1.5 million test takers qualified for the NMSP. This was a total of around fifty thousand students. Of the fifty thousand students, thirty-four thousand were given commendation letters to augment their college applications. Of those students, sixteen thousand were chosen to be semi-finalists. Finally, 7,440 students received National Merit Scholarships. 

National Merit Scholars receive huge amounts of scholarships from prestigious colleges all over the country. Some schools will even offer a full ride or presidential scholarship to National Merit Scholars. This means that a good score on the PSAT can literally pay off. The National Merit Scholarship could really stand alone as the only reason why to take the PSAT! 

All of the students who take the test have the chance to qualify for the program; it doesn’t matter how you’ve performed academically up to that point. If you’ve let your grades slip and you’re not sure whether you’ll qualify for other scholarships, studying hard for the PSAT is a good way to boost your scholarship chances.

It’s great practice for the SAT

There are a million study aids and worksheets that can tell you what content will be on the SAT. You can study the format of standardized tests for hours. But sometimes people will know all of the test’s content, arrive at the area where testing will take place, and yet will still become paralyzed by physically taking the test. The SAT takes a physical toll on a person. It’s three hours and forty-five minutes of sitting still and engaging your brain as well as you can. Many juniors haven’t ever sat still for such a long period of time. Similarly, many juniors also haven’t ever taken such a grueling test.

When you take the PSAT, you have a chance to familiarize yourself with the standardized testing environment. The pressure is feel lower, since your score won’t have a huge impact on your college applications. It’s probably no surprise that students who take the PSAT regularly score higher on the SAT than students who don’t. Check out more of the similarities and differences in our article PSAT vs SAT

Related: 5 Proven PSAT Study Guides for Score Increases

It helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses

As previously mentioned, the PSAT covers much of the same content that you’ll find on the SAT. When you get your PSAT results, you’ll be given detailed information regarding the questions you missed. You’ll also be given a score for your reading comprehension, writing skill, and math ability based on your percentile ranking. This allows you to understand your academic strengths and weaknesses. If there are areas in which you consistently perform poorly — for example, a particular grammar rule or algebraic formula — you can target your studying more effectively. Students who don’t take the PSAT don’t have access to this information, which is another reason why PSAT-takers outperform non-PSAT takers on the SAT.

You’ll learn effective test-taking strategies

Test taking is a skill set all by itself. You can have all of the knowledge in the world, but if you burn yourself out during the test, that knowledge won’t do you any good. You need to understand how to use your energy strategically and effectively. You also need to consider how your answers will impact your score. This is a purely tactical approach. When a question is left blank, it doesn’t count against your score, but it doesn’t add to it. Conversely, incorrect answers take away from your score. You must be confident of your answers before you select them, making the PSAT extremely important for thinking strategically for the SAT. Check out some awesome PSAT tips to help you on test day. 

Taking the test increases confidence!

In the end, there are two possible results following the test: You either get a good score, or you don’t. When you get a good score, you could be in the running for the National Merit Scholarship program, as previously mentioned. You’ll also have an increased sense of confidence in your ability to study and knowledge of the SAT’s content. Conversely, you might not get a good score. Why take the PSAT if you score badly? Well, now you can identify your exact problem areas and tailor your studying to the exact content that you need to learn. In this way, you’ll go into the SAT more fully prepared and confident.

When you do well, colleges notice

Why does the PSAT matter if the score isn’t part of your college applications? Even though your PSAT score isn’t a component of your official college application, colleges still look at PSAT scores. Top performing students will find themselves aggressively courted by high quality colleges all over the country, which can be a great incentive to take the PSAT. This has a multitude of different benefits — the main ones being increased school options and increased scholarship opportunities. When you show that you’re a smart, capable student, colleges will compete for your attention. Top performing students can find “ins” with every kind of college in every area of the country.

Colleges use a program called the Student Search Service to find top performing students. The College Board, which is the organization administering both the PSAT and SAT, allows the sharing of “preferential and personal” student information with over 1,100 colleges along with scholarship boards. It’s another way the PSAT can literally pay.   Hopefully we’ve convinced you why the PSAT is important and you’re on your way towards prepping for the PSAT and SAT! Why take the PSAT? Really, the question should be “why not?”

Read On:

Best PSAT Prep Courses Online & In-Person

PSAT Test Dates

Free PSAT Practice Tests 

PSAT vs. SAT – What Are the Differences?