When Should Students Take the PSAT?

High school students have a lot of important decisions to make when it comes to standardized testing, including when to take the PSAT. The PSAT, which stands for “Preliminary SAT,” is an annual standardized test offered in October to most high school juniors throughout the United States.

This test does not count toward college admissions, but it is a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship according to The Princeton Review. Even though the test doesn’t affect a person’s ability to go to college, the PSAT does offer several advantages. When a student takes the test can also play a role in future college success.

Benefits of the PSAT

The National Merit Scholarship awards a small amount of money to students who qualify, but merely qualifying for a merit award can also look good on a college application. Students are more likely to attract other scholarships – both private and corporate – if they’ve already qualified for the National Merit Scholarship. This in itself is reason enough to take the PSAT as it’s the sole qualifying test for the merit award.

However, there are other benefits to sitting for the test. Taking a practice standardized test helps students to prepare for the real thing later, namely the actual SAT or the ACT. If taken early, a student has at least two chances to prepare for these longer and more important standardized tests. The PSAT will also give students a better idea of how the perform under pressure since the practice tests asks similar, though easier, questions.

When to Take the Test

Most students take the test in October of their junior year of high school. Some students may take the PSAT as early as their sophomore year, but it’s not necessary to take it any earlier than the junior year. This is because the PSAT, unlike the SAT or ACT, does not include as many difficult questions. Students can retake standardized tests several times in order to submit the best scores to prospective colleges, but the PSAT isn’t used by admissions boards. Taking the test multiple times may help students better prepare for the real tests, but an improved score doesn’t mean anything in terms of college admissions.

Practice Makes Perfect

Some students may wonder whether there’s a point in taking the practice test at all, let alone when to take the PSAT. As noted earlier, there are several reasons why taking the PSAT can help students, but the most important reason to take the test is for practice. Taking standardized tests can be exhausting, daunting and even boring in some cases. Boredom may cause students to lose focus. If students train themselves to sit for several hours and answer test questions, they stand a better chance of securing higher scores on the proper SAT or ACT. Plus, these lengthy college preparation tests also prepare students for college exams, which can be longer and more grueling than tests taken in high school.

Aside from the National Merit Scholarship described above, there aren’t any tangible benefits to taking the PSAT more than once, and taking it earlier than the junior year offers few advantages. When to take the PSAT ultimately depends on certain factors, such as how confident the student feels in his test-taking abilities and how likely he is to qualify for a merit award.