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Preparing for the Practice Exam: PSAT Tips

The PSAT is a standardized test that provides practice experience for other standardized exams.

Francesca Kavalir

August 27, 2014

Preparing for the Practice Exam: PSAT Tips
All around, pencils tap furiously, students chomp nails to nibs and teeth chatter like a parade of woodpeckers. Suddenly, the proctor’s wearily-spoken instructions blur together and the walls seem to close in - right before many high schoolers’ most important test. The SAT room pressure can escalate to unfeasible extents, and sometimes just knowing the material is not enough.

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Experience in the test room environment can help tremendously. For those that aren't familiar with the PSAT, it stands for The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). It’s a standardized test that provides practice experience for other standardized exams. The PSAT offers both this experience and coverage of most SAT sections. More specifically, the test focuses on measuring your critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills.

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In addition, this test by itself can earn National Merit Scholarships for the most dedicated students, gain access to college and career planning tools as well as receive feedback on your specific exam mistakes. It's worthwhile to go into this test prepared for the real deal, so use these tips to show your best from the start.

Invest in Prep Books

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When looking for the right book components, start with practice tests. Nearly every prep book on the shelf will have at least four exams, hopefully even more.
The Blue Book has sample tests directly from previous College Board examinations. Some other highly recommended publishers include Barron’s and Princeton Review. Be forewarned: these books are not cheap. Don’t have the cash to spare? Ask upperclassmen if they have any extras or look up tests online. SAT books work well too; just remember that the PSAT does not include an essay.

Make a Schedule

Whenever any high school student manages to grab a sliver of delicious free time in his or her day, spending it on extra studying doesn't hold much appeal. Instead of just picking up those prep books at random intervals, make it a part of the daily routine. Even just a little bit of review each day goes a long way. Establish goals to reach, like finishing a full practice test by the end of the week.

Seek Extra Help

For some of those more troublesome concepts, hitting the books just will not cut it. Ask current math or English teachers for help in those respective sections. If these teachers are busy at the time, high schools and libraries often have tutors or lab assistants specifically for these subjects. Keep in mind that an educator doesn't necessarily have to be a formal teacher; plenty of other students are in the same struggling position and would be glad to exchange knowledge. Teaching is the best way to learn, so study groups can really benefit everyone (as long as specific goals are set to keep on task).

Be Ready for Test Day

After taking months to prepare, no one wants to see one little fumble, such as a forgotten alarm clock or a botched eraser, ruin his or her test. A full night’s rest and healthy breakfast are always worthwhile. Set out comfortable clothes, No. 2 pencils, erasers, any needed paperwork and snacks the night before. One should familiarize him or herself with PSAT testing procedures beforehand also, information that can be found on The College Board web site and most preparatory books.

Learn from It!

Remember the reason for taking this test in the first place! The worst thing to do after receiving that precious manila envelope is slipping the contents up just far enough to see that score and throwing the rest out. The best part of the PSAT is that whole test packets are returned to the test takers, along with all the correct answers. Students are permitted to write in the test booklets, though NOT in the answer booklets. Mark up the former during the test, and come back to all those tricky questions at home. Mistakes will repeat themselves unless the weak spots are recognized and improved. More important than the possibility of earning merit scholarships from the PSATs is the experience. Most strategies for this assessment can be applied to the SAT, SAT subject tests and ACTs - all exams that could really make a difference in one’s future.

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