How can my Child Improve His or Her PSAT Score?

B. Miller

The Preliminary SAT, also referred to as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), is an optional test offered to high school students during their sophomore and junior years of school. It was developed by the College Board, and is meant to act as a practice test for the SAT® and as a scholarship qualifying program. Because the test can be taken twice, and it is only in the junior year that the scores are considered for a scholarship, many students are given the opportunity to improve their PSAT scores. One important way your child can improve his or her PSAT score is by taking free practice tests.

Students may participate in PSAT testing to increase their chances of winning scholarships.
Students may participate in PSAT testing to increase their chances of winning scholarships.

There are three sections of the PSAT: mathematics, critical reading, and writing skills. Each section is scored on a scale of 20 to 80; an average score for each section would be approximately 50. When the student takes the test in his or her junior year, the scores are added to find a score known as the "selection index," used to compete for the National Merit Scholarship. Each year that the student takes the test, he will receive a copy of his scores, as well as a percentile ranking comparing him to other students in the same grade who took the test.

PSAT prep classes are offered to help students prepare for the test.
PSAT prep classes are offered to help students prepare for the test.

There is no shortage of practice tests offered either at schools, online, and in test prep books. Many are free, though some require a small fee. In addition, there are many computer software programs available to help your child study for the test and improve his PSAT score, which will in turn help get a higher SAT® score. Taking regular practice tests, timing them, and treating them as if they are the real test is an excellent way to improve a PSAT score. Software programs often include games to encourage the students to have fun and learn at the same time.

Another way to improve a PSAT score is by studying with an individual tutor in areas that are particularly challenging. In addition, the student should be taking the hardest possible classes he or she can handle for his grade level. Students who study well for their classes will be able to apply those same principles to the test. In addition, the student should be familiar with the test, and read the directions ahead of time. Again, taking practice tests will familiarize him or her with the directions and style of questions.

On the day of the test, be sure the student gets enough sleep beforehand, and eats a healthy breakfast. While taking the test, the College Board recommends omitting questions to which the student is not sure of the answer, rather than making a random guess. This is because points are subtracted for incorrect guesses, but not for omitted questions; these are simply not scored. It is also important to check the scoring grid regularly to be sure he or she is filling in the correct oval for the corresponding question. For your child to improve his or her PSAT score, there is no better method than careful preparation.

PSAT practice tests are available at many schools.
PSAT practice tests are available at many schools.

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Discussion Comments


ErickTait - Good luck to you. I just wanted to say that in order to receive a merit scholarship, you really have to score within the 98% to 99% PSAT score percentile.

The great thing about the PSAT score results is that it allows you a second chance to take the exam as a junior. It also allows you to see which areas are your weakest in and improve upon those.

If you focus on the questions you got wrong and why you get them incorrect it could help you on the next go around.

Taking as many practice tests as possible helps because you get used to the format of the test, but I think you should really focus on the areas that your are deficient in.


Thanks a lot for the tips. I’ll keep them in mind. I’m a junior in high school and am planning to take the PSAT this year. Shmoop has helped me with my PSAT Prep.

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