The Preliminary SAT or PSAT is a test administered by the College Board to juniors (and some sophomores) in October. It is a test that officially marks the beginning of your SAT process and is a helpful diagnostic tool. The PSAT contains the same kinds of questions you find on the SAT and therefore gives you a good sense of what the actual test is like.
The PSAT includes multiple-choice questions on vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, algebra, geometry, and numbers and operations. It covered this material exactly as the SAT does, but with half the number of sections.
What can I do for the SATs as a sophomore? Is it too early to start preparing?
In many schools both in New York and around the country the SAT process begins in the spring of students’ sophomore year. These schools have begun administering the first of two PSATs at this time to give students an early taste of the SAT. While most students won’t take the actual SAT Exam the first time for about a year, many institutions are feeling like earlier is better to get students acclimated to the exam
For many families this causes an incredible amount of stress. They can’t believe the SAT exam is already upon them and parents become frantic to learn more about the exam process and to get their child prepared. First off, relax. This is the first of two Pre-SATs and is meant to get students comfortable with the SAT exam, a goal that is severely undermined by a having a heart attack over it. You have time. Months of study and practice tests are ahead for you, and you will have the time to address whatever challenges you discover the SAT test presents for you when you take it. Getting this early diagnostic information can only help you.
All this being said, there are some things you can do in your sophomore year to prepare for the PSAT and SAT. It is important to set concrete, simple goals and don’t attempt to “solve” the whole exam at one. You have time to work, remember. Students often find it useful to take look at a few sample SAT questions. It’s always helpful to familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions being asked on the PSAT and SAT so you don’t feel surprised at any point. The question types on both tests are the same. Also, on the SAT itself you will be required to write an essay and your sophomore year is a great time to start thinking about books you’ve read, historical events that interest you or current events you have on the brain that might serve as great fodder for your SAT essay.
You are beginning an exciting process that will culminate in going to college. Relax, work hard, and you’ll be in a great position to make your dreams become reality.
What is the PSAT, and why do I need to take it?
The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, is taken by juniors during the third Thursday in October. (Some schools actually offer the PSAT to sophomores as well, and if yours is one of them, take advantage of it.) The test is basically a practice run for the real SAT, and since you won’t submit it to colleges, it won’t have any direct impact on whether or not you’ll be admitted.
Still, not only should you take the PSAT seriously, you should join the hundreds of students who get a jump on SAT prep by studying for the PSAT.
First, scoring high on the PSAT makes you eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. The score you need for a National Merit Scholarship varies from year to year, and from state to state. (It’s all about doing exceptionally well in comparison to all the other students taking the PSAT.) If you’re taking the PSAT in New York, for example, you’ll probably need at least a 218 to be a contender for a National Merit Scholarship. Not only does the National Merit Scholarship mean you’ll get extra money for college; it also looks great on college applications.
Second, and even more importantly, the PSAT will give you a strong indication of how you can expect to perform on the SAT. Though there’s no essay on the PSAT, there are Reading, Writing and Math sections, each of which closely resembles its counterpart on the SAT exam. The College Board will send you not only your PSAT score (out of a possible 240, while the SAT is out of a possible 2400), but also a detailed breakdown of
the type and difficulty of each question you missed. Did you nail the sentence completions but falter in the critical reading? Did you miss a couple of easy math problems at the beginning of the section, as you were anxious to get to the tougher problems later on? The PSAT score report will tell you, and it’ll offer major clues to how you and your tutor can tailor your studying to improve your score.
Of course, the PSAT isn’t the only diagnostic test you should take while you’re preparing for the SAT. CATES offers free PSAT and SAT diagnostic tests nearly every week of the year, and studies have shown that the more tests you take, the higher your score is likely to be. However, taking the PSAT is different from taking a practice test. You’ll take the PSAT in school, with your peers, and you’ll know the scores will go on your record. It’s simply a more intense experience, and the best possible indication of how you’re doing in your preparation for the SAT, up to that point. Take advantage of the PSAT, learn what you can from it, and apply those lessons to your preparation for the SAT.