The Paly Voice

Opinion: Care about the PSAT

Julia Asin and Wesley Woo

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This time of the year, all juniors are faced with the eternal question: to study for the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test® or not to study.

But what is the PSAT/NMSQT? And why does it matter?

Back when we were juniors, we also had these questions. The PSAT/NMSQT is a national test that students across the nation take, typically during their junior year. After you take the test, you receive your results, and if you score in or above the 96th percentile you could be recognized as a semifinalist at the beginning of your senior year, after which you have to submit your scores from the SAT and an essay in order to find out if you are a National Merit Scholar. This year, juniors at Palo Alto High School will be taking the PSAT on Wednesday as a part of College and Career Awareness Day.

So, what should you do about the PSAT?

  1. The PSAT is linked to National Merit Scholarships (as the name implies), which means if you become a finalist, you could win scholarship money.
  2. National Merit looks good. It’s an opportunity to pad your college app with a national award. Colleges love having National Merit Scholars. Becoming a finalist means getting scholarships from schools like Washington University in St. Louis and Tufts University, and even being a semi-finalist looks good.
  3. People who have already taken the SAT have a huge headstart.  If you are one of those people, don’t sweat it. If you aren’t, keep reading.
  4. You don’t have to go overboard if you want to get a good score. In Advisory, you should have received a practice PSAT packet. Do that. To be honest, over-practicing can get you too hyped up, and stressing can cause a lot of people to under-perform. Three practice PSATs are plenty.
  5. If you’re like the majority of Paly students who haven’t gotten started with SAT prep, the PSAT is a perfect benchmark. If you don’t care about National Merit, just go into it without studying. It can give you a good idea of the areas you’re going to need to focus on when it comes to the actual SAT. Don’t be the kid who starts studying for the SAT the week before and expects a 2400.
  6. If you don’t like your score, don’t worry! The PSAT is just a preliminary score. Plenty of people we know got scores they didn’t like, and ended up scoring 200 points higher on the real thing. By using the right materials (e.g. THE OFFICIAL BIG BLUE BOOK and free prep questions on Naviance) or by getting the right test prep (AJ tutoring anyone?), you can greatly improve your score. Remember, the SAT is not for everyone. Plenty of people don’t do well on the SAT but get a great ACT score. When results come in, compare your PSAT score to your PLAN score from sophomore year and figure out which test you want to take.
  7. STUDY, BUT DON’T STRESS. If you don’t get National Merit, you don’t get National Merit. Remember that only the top, top percentage of students in the nation will get it. Some top schools like Princeton and Stanford don’t even care if you got National Merit or not, as long as you do well on the actual test
  8. If you do get National Merit, when you’re a senior, you can feel special when you get a call slip that isn’t for detention or being a hooligan.

Good luck you crazy kids!

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