Test Prep

5 Ways Rising Juniors Can Prep for the PSAT This Summer

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While your PSAT scores won't be used in the college admission process, taking the PSAT can serve as a highly beneficial practice experience for taking the SAT. In addition, taking the PSAT in your junior year (also referred to as the PSAT NMSQT) is also one way to potentially earn some scholarship money, or at least make your college application stand out from the rest. As long as you score high enough, that is.

If your junior year is coming up this fall, then you might want to consider carving out some test prep sessions this summer for the PSAT. Here are our tips to help you perfect your test strategy during the summer break so you can feel confident when the test date rolls around.


Learn the PSAT Format

The PSAT is a solid introduction to the world of standardized tests required for college admissions. Whether you plan on taking the SAT or the ACT in high school, understanding what the PSAT is made of and how it works will help you feel more confident about your test prep efforts. If you don't know anything about the PSAT or the SAT, then you should start by going over the format of the PSAT, which topics the test covers and how much time is given in each section.

Take PSAT Practice Tests

The best way to find out how you will need to pace yourself on the test is to take a practice version of the PSAT. These are available online from the College Board or Khan Academy.

Once you've taken a practice test, go over the answers to see what you missed and why. Was it because you didn't have the math, grammar or vocab skills to figure out the answer? Had you narrowed it down to two answers and then guessed the wrong one? (There is no penalty for guessing, by the way). Was it because you ran out of time and misread the question? Analyze your mistakes to help you come up with a PSAT study plan that targets your weak spots. You may discover that you do have the skills to answer the questions but keep running out of time in certain sections. That just means you'll need to work on your pacing.

Be sure that each time you take a practice test, you are sitting at an empty desk or table with no distractions for the full duration of the test. By simulating the test day conditions as much as possible, you can be sure that your practice test score will be close to what you can expect your official test score to be.

Trying for National Merit? Practice Even More

Doing a practice test will also give you an idea of your potential score, and if you happen to get a really high score on your practice test, you should start looking up the National Merit index cutoffs for your state to determine whether or not you are in reach of qualifying for National Merit recognition and possibly National Merit scholarships.

“Students who are at or near their state cutoff may benefit from additional practice to achieve that goal,” says Cathy Costa, a college consultant at Educational Advocates College Consulting Corporation. “Students in range of National Merit may want to practice more than students who are just trying to become acclimated to the test.” 

Prepare for the SAT

Because the format of the PSAT and SAT are almost the same (PSAT is 15 minutes shorter and lacks the essay option), you can actually study SAT questions and take SAT practice tests in order to prepare yourself for the PSAT. This makes a lot of sense if you plan to eventually take the SAT later in your junior year or in your senior year. You'll find practice SAT questions and full length practice SATs for free on the College Board and Khan Academy websites.

Also, it's true that SAT questions are slightly more difficult than the PSAT questions, even though they do cover the same topics. For this reason, it would be smart to prepare for the PSAT by studying for the SAT. If you start to feel good about your SAT test-taking abilities, then you are more likely to breeze through the PSAT.

Don't Stress

If you aren't trying for a National Merit Scholarship or recognition, then you don't have to worry so much about scoring higher than all the other junior-year students in your state and in the country. Think of taking the PSAT as a great way to get a feel for the official SAT or ACT test-taking experience and overcome any test-taking anxiety.

As Costa puts it, “standardized tests are just one piece of the college application process, and many students score very well on the SAT or ACT without prepping for the PSAT. Students should enjoy the summer between sophomore and junior year, and strive for a balance between any employment, service opportunities, family obligations and their social lives.”