Should my Child Take the PSAT?

wiseGEEK Writer

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.

The PSAT will contain algebra equations.
The PSAT will contain algebra equations.

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.

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 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.

The PSAT can be used to earn scholarships for college.
The PSAT can be used to earn scholarships for college.

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Discussion Comments


@ GiraffeEars- My advice is to examine the way that you approach the test. Think of it as a test of reasoning ability rather than a test of knowledge. This makes it important to practice how to stay calm, and to focus. The SAT is timed, making it easy to get nervous and distracted. If you hit a few hard questions in a row, the SAT can easily discourage you. Your reasoning ability is greatly compromised when your confidence is diminished so practice focusing and keeping a positive attitude. Do not let yourself think that you need to get the right answer, and remember that you can always come back to questions that make you draw a blank.

To get used to performing under pressure, take practice exams in a place with background distractions (group study room in a library, cafe, etc.). Set your timer for five minutes less than the time allotted for the test. Finally, buy the best-rated practice guide you can find. These are usually ones that have questions harder than those found on the test do. When you get to the testing center, you will find that the test is easier, and you will have more time to take the test than when you practiced.


Besides the PSAT practice exam, what is a good way to prepare for the SAT? I want to score as high as I possibly can because I am trying to get accepted to a few highly selective schools. The SATs are the last piece of the puzzle before I start submitting applications.


I took the PSAT test when I was in high school, and I feel like it made it easier for me to take the SAT. The PSAT prepared me for the testing format, making me less nervous when I took the test. I ended up scoring well on the SAT, and even better when I took it for the second time. My first score was a 1220 and my second score was a 1310. I am not sure if they score the SATs the same nearly a decade later, but for the time this was a good score.

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