The question as to whether parents should encourage their children to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test or PSAT is open to differing opinions. Some people are strongly in favor of children taking this test because it is not a measure used by most colleges to grant admission, but can be used to gain scholarships. Others feel this testing is a relative waste of time, and that time would be better spent having kids prepare for the SAT Reasoning Test, which may sometimes be taken as early as 9th grade or freshman year.
It can be said of both SAT and PSAT that they measure academic aptitude to a certain point, and they both cost money to take; testing fees vary on year. Many people don’t just pay for the test, but they also spend huge amounts of money on PSAT or SAT preparation classes, and a large industry has arisen around taking these tests. The two tests are not the same. The SAT has a written portion, unlike the PSAT, and also contains Algebra II concepts. It is longer by over an hour than the preliminary test.
There are two big advantages to taking the lower level test. Scores from it are used to gain entry into the National Merit Scholarship Program, and if scores are very high students may be able to compete for scholarships with this program. Lots of students don’t win a scholarship but they might get recognition of their achievements, which can be listed on a resume. The other reason parents may first favor this test for children is due to the fact that it is like a trial SAT, though less challenging, and a good way to determine how much work a child might need in passing SATs.
Some might ask, why not just take the SAT and the answer to this is straightforward. When anyone takes an SAT, and will submit scores anywhere else, all scores count. A really low ranking score could slightly diminish higher scores later on, though some schools take into account progression in score. The PSAT can be taken without prejudicing SAT scores, and this may be its most important purpose. It may be viewed as a performance indicator on the SAT (to some degree) without changing the way future SAT scores are perceived.
It should be noted that not all schools evaluate SAT score, and some recommend taking the ACT instead. The ACT has two preparatory tests. In junior high students take the EXPLORE test and they can opt to take the PLAN in ninth or tenth grade, before taking the ACT. Since students all over the US apply for college, may universities will accept either test, but some do require taking a specific one.
There are some schools that do not ask for either test, and if applying solely to these, taking preparatory levels of testing don’t make a lot of sense, unless scholarships are the goal. Those students definitely planning not to attend a four-year college initially may not need the PSAT and if they change their minds, they can take SATs through their senior year. However, most students don’t know for certain what their career path is in ninth or tenth grade, and PLAN or PSAT may be one step that helps make this determination and sets students on a career path. Taking such a test certainly does no harm, and might ultimately be viewed as very helpful. Some schools have scholarships to pay for the tests for students in poor economic circumstances.