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Scores and Scholarships: Why the PSAT Matters

Scores and Scholarships: Why the PSAT Matters

By Andrea Deck, Varsity Tutors’ Contributor

February 28, 2014

Why should you prepare for the PSAT? The primary reasons are simple – to potentially gain scholarships and to definitely gain practice.

One of the single most compelling reasons to take the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship. If you meet or exceed a certain score threshold, which varies from state to state, you will become eligible for National Merit Program recognition.

This is an excellent addition to your college application. For those students who land a spot in this small and special category of high scorers, the National Merit Scholarship competition begins.

If you don’t make it into the semifinalist category for the National Merit Scholarship, never fear – you are not necessarily disqualified for all scholarships. Many private scholarship criteria are based on PSAT marks, especially those that involve more difficult programs or high school-level programs overtly concerned with development and education.

Corporate and college scholarships based on the PSAT also ease the tension of senior year’s frantic push to fund the college you’ve decided to attend. A high score may also enable you to apply to a more expensive school due to additional monetary sources that you would not typically consider.

The PSAT is very similar to the SAT and teaches students many of the same skills. Why is this related to money? Consider that most students take (and pay for) the SAT more than once. The PSAT offers a less expensive and lower-stakes practice run for the SAT.

This can assist you in acclimating to the mindset of the exam. Hopefully, preparing for and completing the PSAT will familiarize you with the regulations of SAT-style testing and subsequently lessen the anxiety associated with it.

The PSAT is also a worthwhile learning experience for those individuals who may have less than ideal study and testing habits. For students who haven’t quite determined a solid system of reviewing unfamiliar material, the PSAT is a trusted scale for assessing your ability to learn and study on your own.

If you reviewed in one manner each day for a month and did very poorly on the test, you will know, from that moment on, that you will never study that way again. It is not a missed opportunity, but instead a wonderful way to protect yourself from future disappointments on the real test. It is also easier and faster to fix your bad habits early on.

Last but not least, the PSAT is one of the most reliable measures of academic achievement in relation to the country as a whole. Although many states test their students from the first day of school, they are too infrequently nationalized to be a useful standard.

If you are succeeding in your current high school and are beginning to harbor ivy-colored dreams, the PSAT can be a solid reality check of your academic status. Being the best and the brightest, or a middle-ground achiever, in one environment can mean something entirely different in another location.

If you’re still eyeing an Ivy League school, but you’re not nationally competing at that level, you now can consider a long-term strategy to change your level of achievement to a more desirable rank.

Conversely, you may discover that you’re achieving well-above the norm and can set your sights higher than you previously thought.


Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.


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