Many high school sophomores and juniors will take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) in order to begin preparing to take the SAT . The PSAT is the first step in the process of studying for the SAT because the PSAT is just a scaled-down version of the SAT. The PSAT covers the same topics and uses the same format as the SAT, but the PSAT is about an hour shorter. Even though students know that it makes sense to start preparing for standardized tests as early as possible, it can be hard to know where to start, especially for a test like the PSAT, which covers several completely different topics.
Although many students study for the PSAT and take the PSAT as a kind of 'rehearsal' test before the SAT, students who test very well and who have solid academic backgrounds also choose to study for and take the PSAT to attempt to earn a National Merit Scholarship.
Topics Tested on the PSAT
The PSAT consists of two sections of math questions, which test students’ quantitative problem-solving abilities, as well as students’ knowledge of specific math topics. One section is entirely multiple choice questions, while the other section is all short-answer questions. This section requires students to actually work through problems themselves and to write out the answer to each problem. In order to do well on both math sections, students will need to be comfortable deciding what the best way to solve each problem is, setting up equations for word problems, and solving problems completely. While this may seem like a large skill set to master, practice with different types of math problems in students’ high school math classes can be one of the best ways to prepare.
The PSAT also has two multiple choice sections of critical reading questions, which test students’ reading comprehension skills and grammar skills. Some questions will require students to read a passage and respond to it, while other questions will ask students to complete sentences with the most suitable words or phrases. For the passage-based questions, students will need to be able to read passages and identify the appropriate information to answer questions. For the sentence completion questions, students will need to have a complete understanding of English grammar and a strong vocabulary, as the PSAT will throw in lots of complicated words seemingly in the hopes of tripping up students.
The biggest difference between the PSAT and SAT is that the PSAT has a half-hour section with multiple choice questions on writing, while the SAT requires students to write a complete essay in response to a given prompt. The PSAT’s writing section will ask students to improve sentences or paragraphs by adding in or changing certain phrases, and it will also require students to identify errors in sentences. Just like the critical reading section, a strong working knowledge of English grammar and an extensive vocabulary will help students do well on the writing section.
Hiring a PSAT Tutor
In order to do well on the PSAT, a student needs to be comfortable with answering quantitative questions, setting up math problems, analyzing passages, and using knowledge of grammar to fix sentences. This is a tall order, as students tend to be better at one type of academic work than the other, but it is necessary to master both types of subject matter if a student wants to succeed on the PSAT. For students who want to improve certain sections, a PSAT tutor can be an excellent way to combine test prep with targeted practice in problem areas.
A student who decides to work with a PSAT tutor can expect to do several things during tutoring sessions. First, the tutor will assess how well the student knows certain subject areas, usually by using a short practice PSAT or practice math and reading problems. Once the PSAT tutor knows which areas need the most work, he or she will come up with a plan for how to spend subsequent tutoring session. A student will then do practice questions testing math concepts and skills needed for reading comprehension, and the tutor will help explain each question and how to reach the correct answer. An overview of Origins Tutoring’s test prep methods can be found here.
Most students will take the PSAT in their junior year (though some will take it in sophomore year). The majority of students aiming to earn a National Merit Scholarship will take the PSAT in October of their junior year. Therefore PSAT tutoring or test prep should start ideally in the summer before 11th grade, and for some students, in 10th grade.
Whether a student is taking the PSAT as a practice run before the SAT, or as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, hiring an expert PSAT tutor can help a student do his or her best on test day. And this investment could, ultimately, lead to a student receiving scholarship money for college if he or she does well -- a potential excellent return on PSAT tutoring.