Top 6 Tips for the PSAT: How to Do Well on the PSAT
Oftentimes, the PSAT is a student’s first experience with a standardized test for college, and for many, it can provide valuable insight into their academic strengths and weaknesses. The PSAT is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which awards college scholarship money to top test-takers.
If the PSAT is currently on your radar, go the extra mile to learn about the exam inside and out. Keep reading to learn more about what’s on the test and some strategies to help you succeed.
PSAT Test-Taking Strategies:
- Learn the Basics
- Take a Practice Test
- Answer Every Question
- Pack Smartly
- Make the Most of the Day Before
- Have a Morning Ritual
Is the PSAT Hard?
How Difficult is the PSAT? The PSAT focuses on math, reading, writing, and language concepts that high school sophomores and juniors typically have already studied in their academic courses. Because much of the content has already been covered, the test shouldn’t be too hard for most students. However, like with most exams, some preparation can help you perform your best on the test day, so it’s important to learn how to study for the PSAT.
Learn the Basics
What’s on the PSAT? The PSAT is essentially an abbreviated version of the SAT with a Math and English Reading & Writing section. The math sections are designed to evaluate the quantitative skills you will use in college, your career, or your personal life. The math section includes questions that are both multiple-choice and grid-ins. Topics covered include Heart of Algebra, Problem & Data Analysis, and the Passport to Advanced Math. The exam takes 2 hours and 45 minutes in total and includes a near equal distribution of reading, writing, and math questions.
The questions on the reading test are multiple-choice and based on passages. Some passages are paired and others include informational graphics such as tables, graphs, and charts. The test will ask you to locate information within the passages or ask what the author’s words imply. Similarly, the writing section is comprised of multiple-choice questions based on passages, which can be accompanied by graphics. No prior knowledge is tested, but students will be asked to use practical skills they have covered in their own schoolwork: reading passages, finding mistakes, and fixing the identified errors.
In order to take the PSAT, students must register through their school. The PSAT is offered three times in October, and your school will offer the test on one of those three dates. Check with your school guidance department about when you are able to register and on what date your school is offering the test. Students who are homeschooled or located internationally may still be eligible to take the exam, so don’t be afraid to reach out in order to learn more.
5 PSAT Tips
Take a Practice Test
It’s important to get an understanding of the test’s structure, as well as a clear picture of what is covered on the exam. Luckily, the CollegeBoard has provided free access to ten full-length practice tests, answer sheets, and answer explanations on their website.
Answer Every Question
Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, it’s important to make sure you fill in an answer for every question even if you are not 100% certain that it is the correct answer. This exam is scored by adding up all of your correct answers to calculate a raw score. The CollegeBoard breaks this down in their scoring booklet.
Students should bring the essentials and aim to leave everything else at home. For the PSAT that means taking No. 2 pencils, an approved calculator, and a valid ID. Avoid bringing the following items: electronic devices and smart watches, protractors, rulers, highlighters, colored pencils, pens, food, and drinks.
Make the Most of the Day Before
Building strong test preparation habits for the PSAT can help set you up for success for other college entrance exams. Take the night before the test off and use this time to relax, clear your mind, and pack your bag. Be sure to go to bed early to give yourself plenty of time to sleep and prepare for the test during the following morning.
Have a Morning Ritual
On test day, make sure you get up early enough to give yourself adequate time to eat breakfast, take a shower, and feel mentally and physically alert. Choose a morning meal with protein to stay fueled throughout the exam and maybe walk around the block to get your blood pumping. Plan to leave home at least 15 minutes earlier than you need to in order to avoid any last-minute commuting stress.
What Should I Do Before the PSAT: Last Minute PSAT Tips
The night before the test, gather everything you need:
- Know the route to the testing center.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Eat breakfast.
- The night before and the morning of the exam, don’t talk to friends about the test.
- Stretch out your muscles if you feel tense.
While the PSAT can seem stressful, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the exam, students should believe in themselves and walk into the test room with confidence. Tests like the PSAT can be challenging, but there is more than one reason to study for these exams. Check out the benefits of studying for tests.