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Good Things Come In 3’s On The PSAT

by Erik R. Slagle

Rising juniors can get a head start on their PSAT practice and still enjoy summer vacation!

This spring and into the early summer, I’ll be sharing a series of “Top 3’s” on social media for students and parents looking for tips and strategies in navigating the SAT, ACT, and overall college admissions process. Since the summer is a popular time for rising juniors thinking about October’s PSAT, here are a few sets of triplets that are just right for anyone entering that phase of college applications.

Three reasons the PSAT is important. “It’s just a practice SAT.” Well, that’s true, but the PSAT can be much more if you need it to be.

1: It gives you a baseline score that helps focus your SAT practice. If your PSAT score is lower than you thought it should be, it might also be a sign that the ACT might be a good option for you.

2: It’s just for practice, but it accurately reflects what you’ll see on the SAT. All of the subject matter and test structure is the same; the sections are just a little shorter.

3: It can help you qualify for National Merit and other scholarship opportunities!

Three areas tested on the PSAT. Just like the SAT, the PSAT has 2 sections of Math and one each of Reading and Grammar Skills.

Three options for what to do next. Generally, I don’t recommend these early test dates for juniors. But many students want to keep their PSAT momentum rolling through the fall before the holidays hit their stride. After the mid-October PSAT, you might consider taking the November SAT, December SAT, or December ACT. After that, the next options for these tests don’t come until February and March.

Three strategies to improve your score.

1: Practice skimming reading passages first before getting to the questions. You don’t want to jump immediately to the questions without reading at all, but you also don’t want to spend too much time reading closely for details. Just grab a main idea and get to the questions. (Which, by the way, often move chronologically through the passage – which can be helpful when you’re tracking down right answers!)

2: Get familiar with the most commonly tested grammar rules on the Writing and Language section. These include comma use, prepositional phrases, subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and semi-colon use.

3: Learn three basic strategies for improving your Math score. Eliminate answer choices based on order of difficulty (late questions should have less obvious answers, so cross out the traps before guessing); plug in real numbers to get rid of the variables on complex Algebra problems; and work backwards through your answer choices, plugging each one into the original problem until you’ve found the right answer.

(There are nuances to each of these strategies but grab a practice test from the College Board website or Khan Academy and you’ll start to see how they apply.)

The PSAT is just a practice test, but done right, it can also be a valuable starting point on the road to better SAT or ACT scores and a longer list of college acceptances next year!