June 1, 2013

Preparing for the PSAT / NMSQT

Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test

National Merit Scholastic Qualifying Test


One of our sons qualified as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist! We are extremely proud of him and commend him for his hard work. Competing for National Merit Scholarships begins with taking the PSAT during the Junior year of high school to qualify. I'll share what we learned about taking the PSAT to help you prepare your students for college admissions testing and scholarships.

Purpose

The purpose of the PSAT is to prepare for later taking the SAT and to determine National Merit Scholarship Program semi-finalists. Some universities require this score for admissions. To qualify for scholarships, students must obtain scores in at least the 97 percentile range. The focus of the PSAT is on critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills.

When

The PSAT is given once a year in October with registration in mid-September. Test dates for 2013 are Wednesday, October 16 and Saturday, October 19. The test takes about 2-1/2 hours to complete. Scores only count when taken in 11th grade, but students in 10th grade may take the actual test for practice.

Where

Contact the guidance counselor at your local public high school in early September to register and ask for a copy of the Official Student Guide which contains practice tests. Mark your calendar now! Registration is processed through the school, not online. The registration code for homeschool students is determined by the state they live in.

Cost

The cost to take the PSAT in October of 2013 will be $14 per student.

Practice Books

PSAT practice books are available and may be ordered from the College Board website or from Amazon for about $10 to $15 each. The practice books we preferred were from the College Board, Barron’s (especially for math), and Kaplan’s.

Tips

Students should begin taking practice tests during the summer before 10th grade in order to be ready to take the PSAT (for practice) in October. Our boys completed one practice test section each day, UN-timed, in order to become familiar with the test format and the types of questions. An important part of daily practice was to learn from the errors made by looking up and understanding the correct answers. Increased speed came about naturally as they completed more and more UN-timed practice test sections. Imposing time restrictions on every single practice session may frustrate and discourage students. We only gave timed practice tests occasionally. Each timed test did take less time to complete than the previous timed test.  Note: This method is NOT the practice method outlined in the practice books. The method described above is how WE decided to best accomplish daily test practice, which proved to be an effective AND pleasant experience for our boys.

For complete details about the PSAT, visit the College Board website.

National Merit Scholarship Program

About 1.5 million Juniors in more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2013 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2011 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. In order to advance from Semifinalist to Finalist standing, a detailed scholarship application was submitted in which we provided information about our son's academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, and honors and awards received. In addition, our son maintained an outstanding academic record throughout high school, was endorsed and recommended by a leader in the community, wrote an essay, and earned SAT scores that confirmed his earlier performance on the qualifying test.

The National Merit® Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. For more information about the competition, please visit the National Merit Scholarship Corporation website.

Begin preparing for college admissions tests early!

It is important for college-bound homeschooled high school students to have several objective test scores, such as the PSAT, ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests, obtained outside the home in order to confirm grades earned in the homeschool setting and to be competitive college applicants. Tips about the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests will be shared in future posts.