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Is PSAT Prep Really Necessary?

From our partner Method Test Prep and Evan Wessler:

Is it wholly unnecessary to concern yourself with the PSAT? We’ve got the practical answers.

Going Crazy?

The standardized college admissions testing landscape is fraught with anxiety. Though we at Method Test Prep consider it one of our goals to reduce the stress of the families and students we work with, we know that this is easier said than done. Even with our game plans and reassurances, many students find themselves ruminating on the same questions. Which test is best for me? Is my score good enough? Should I take the test again? What did my friends get? The entire enterprise can be remarkably unnerving and exhausting.

Thus, when we see other test prep organizations offer services that are unnecessary and would thus cause students to waste their time and energy, we try to call a spade a spade. Things like starting SAT/ACT prep in 8th grade and taking one full practice test once a week for six months come to mind. Undue work and stress are never good things.

But what about PSAT prep? Is it really necessary to study for the PSAT? For those of you in a rush, the short answer is this: you don’t need to prep for the PSAT, but doing so can play a big role in setting you up for success later on.

First Thing’s First: Chill Out.

Let’s agree on the truth: for almost all but the very tiny fraction of juniors whose PSAT scores will be high enough to qualify them for commendation or semi-finalist/finalist status for the National Merit Scholarship, PSAT scores don’t matter. I say almost because there are a few areas––namely athletic recruiting and certain extracurricular program admissions (like a summer program at a college or university)––whose administrators pay any sort of attention to preliminary scores. But we’re talking about percentages here, and for the vast majority of students, PSAT scores aren’t used for purposes of academic judgment.

The Real Value of PSAT Prep

So why prep for the PSAT? The simple truth is that it isn’t just about the score. For most students, the PSAT is their first foray into standardized admissions testing; it should go without saying that we want students’ first experience with the process to be a positive one. The right kind of PSAT prep can make this happen.

What’s the “right kind”? PSAT prep need not be especially intense; nor does it need to take place over an extended period. On the contrary, students should limit their prep to cover some essentials.

  1. Timing and structure. Like the SAT, the PSAT is a long test that is strictly timed. Many students are not used to the length and pace of the exam, because they just haven’t ever taken a test quite like the PSAT. Therefore, working through a few timed, consecutive sections prior to the real thing will expose and acclimate students to the feel and speed of the exam. This can help put students at ease––rather than stress out about the time constraints, students who know what’s coming on test day will be ready for it.
  2. Content and style. The PSAT (and by extension, the SAT) is unlike any other test students take in school. Instead of testing weeks’ worth of content, it tests years’ worth of material. Instead of presenting questions in the simplest possible form, the PSAT buries simple concepts in richer and more complex context. Students who are prepared to for this will find the experience of working through the questions much more manageable than will those who go into the test cold.
  3. Predictability and strategy. Of all the words that appear in our blog posts,  predictable and strategy must be among the most frequent. By definition,  standardized tests must present material in ways that conform to a set of repeated, recognizable standards. This means that the more material students see, the more familiar they will become with how to interpret and address questions that initially seem much different than the ones they’re used to assessing.

Here’s the brass tacks message to the majority of parents and students: you don’t need a 50-hour PSAT prep class; you don’t need to get worked up about turning your 1150 into a 1200; you should, however, consider some focused, practical prep to familiarize yourself with the exam you’re heading into this fall or spring.

Author: Yuri Punj

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