Parent College Coach #19: The Importance of the PSAT

PSAT preparation is important; it's a PRELIMINARY test, not a practice test, and is how to qualify as a National Merit semi-finalist.

Most parents and students believe the PSAT is just a practice test. But it’s not; it’s a PRELIMINARY test to prepare you for the SAT. It has three categories worth 80 points each: reading, writing, and math. A perfect score is 240. The test “counts” when you take it your junior year, but I recommend your student take it freshman and sophomore years as well. It’s administered once a year in October.

Why put so much focus on the PSAT?

By outscoring others in your state, your student can become a National Merit Semi-Finalist. In order to do this, they don’t have to necessarily have a perfect score. They have to score as well or better than the state index. By outscoring others in your state, you can become a semi-finalist. Your goal is to beat the state index, which isn’t as difficult as you might think since most students don’t study or prepare for the test. For a list of state index scores click here.

How does your student become a National Merit Finalist?

After being chosen as a semi-finalist, there is a 96% chance of becoming a finalist. The only students who do not move up to finalist rank are those who do not submit any information about themselves, do not have good grades, do not take the SAT, or fail to score well on the SAT. The scholarship award to a finalist is $2500. But that’s not the main reason for qualifying as a finalist. The big money for this comes from the colleges themselves. Major universities set aside money to attract National Merit finalists to their school.

6a0120a5738b4b970b0120a8a658e2970b-120wiHow much money are we talking about?

BIG money. When your student completes the semi-finalist paperwork they will indicate the college of their choice. Only one college can be selected, however; be thoughtful when making the selection. Colleges who have money set aside for the finalists will offer the farm to get your student to attend: full tuition, room and board, books and fees, laptops, study abroad and even spending money. They will also offer automatic entrance into the honors college, the best housing and priority registration until graduation.

As you can see, with all this at stake, it makes sense for your student to put a great amount of focus on studying and preparing for the PSAT. An added bonus is that they will be a seasoned standardized test taker when the SAT comes along.

Author: Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer advises parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation at She is excited to share her knowledge with the readers of Smart College Visit.

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