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Using PSAT Results in Planning Testing Strategy

Each year, tens of thousands of students take the PSAT exam at high schools across the United States. The PSAT is not used by colleges in the admissions process, but the results can help you better understand your academic strengths and weaknesses and suggest the skills you should focus on in preparing for college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. This year, students are expected to be able to access their PSAT scores online on December 12th.

Your score report will show you both the average scores earned by test takers in specific grade levels across the U.S., as well as your individual scores on the reading and writing section and on the math portion. Your raw scores (number correct) for each section have been converted to a score table that ranges from 160-760 to allow for differences between alternate versions of this exam. The scores are also reported in terms of percentile rank. Your percentile rank on a specific section represents the percentage of student test takers whose scores fell at or be- low your score. Therefore, a score rank at the 75th percentile indicates that you scored the same or better than 75% of test takers in your grade level. Benchmarks are also provided to help you identify areas in which your skills are “college ready” as well as those needing more work. Below is an excellent video on understanding your score report.

The real value in the PSAT, however, is that it can provide you with a guide to your academic strengths and weak- nesses. You’ll want to take some time to review the individual sections of the report and look at the types of questions that you answered both correctly and incorrectly on this test. If you are a tenth grader taking geometry, don’t worry if you missed several geometry questions since the test was given early in your course. If you have completed geometry and still missed several questions in this area, you’ll want to spend more time reviewing this material before taking your SAT or ACT. A reading and writing section score below the benchmark for college readiness should serve as a wake-up call—you really need to increase the time you spend reading for pleasure. Discuss your score report with your advisor for specific suggestions for improving your performance.

As you review your PSAT scores and think about future SAT scores, keep in mind that test scores, while important, never trump grades when it comes to college admissions. So, high PSAT scores that lead to high SAT scores are not a replacement for consistently good academic performance.

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