The PSAT (in 11th grade), SAT (12th grade) and ACT (12th grade) are three of the most important standardized tests college-bound high school students will take. Of these, you may be surprised to learn that the PSAT is perhaps the most important. Why? Because a qualifying score on the PSAT sets your students apart as a National Merit Semi-Finalist. And National Merit Semi-Finalists are eagerly recruited by colleges and universities. In fact, many schools will try to lure National Merit Scholars with offers of big scholarship money.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation sets a different qualifying level for each state, based on data about all test-takers in all states. For the class of 2020 — students who took the PSAT in the fall of 2018 — Florida’s number was 213 (out of 240). By way of comparison, the qualifying score for Massachusetts was 223 and for Oklahoma it was 210. So it’s easier to qualify in some states than in others.
There are many ways to prepare for this critical test, but by far the most painless is to sign up for the SAT Question of the Day in 8th or 9th grade. Why? Well, for starters, the PSAT is in fact the Preliminary SAT. You may have noticed that the PSAT is scored out of 240. The SAT is scored out of 2400. Most kids score the same on the SAT as they did on the PSAT, i.e., a score of 218 on the PSAT will translate to a score of 2180 on the SAT. The tests are nearly identical, with the exception that there is some higher level math on the SAT. So signing up for the SAT question of the day is a good way to get used to the material and questions that will appear on the PSAT.
But the best reason to sign up for the SAT Question of the Day is because it’s just one question a day. And everyone has the time to work through one question a day. Some questions will be easy, with no effort required. Others will require students to review the solution (provided in detail on the answer page) to gain a better understanding of the material. Either way, it’s a short activity with a lot of impact. A student who signs up the SAT Question of the Day at the start of 9th grade will have completed 730 questions by test day in 11th grade. For some students, this will be all the prep they’ll need. I recommend having your student take the PSAT in 10th grade so you can get an idea of what areas may need additional study.
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
SAT Question of the Day – click “subscribe” in the upper right corner to have the Question of the Day emailed to you (parents can do this, too).
SAT Practice Tests – Free practice tests from College Board for SAT prep.
ACT Academy – Free resources for prepping for the ACT.