Your Student’s PSAT Scores are in: Now What?

Many families have received or are about to receive the PSAT results for their 11th grade student. Most high schools present the results to students PSAT test scoresin their English classes and ask that the score report and booklet be taken home to parents. Unfortunately, most families will have no idea what to do with it. Read on for some suggestions.

1. Consider your student’s score: During my 21-plus years of practice with high school students, the most consistent response I get to “How did you do on your PSAT?” is “Awful!” No one explains to students that they still have almost two full years to go before the end of high school and that the number score is much less important than the percentile into which they fall.

For example, if a student sees a 540 on the Math section, he or she assumes that this is not a good sign for the SAT. If the student looked at the percentile for this score, 73 percent, she or he would have realized that this percentile puts him or her in the top 27 percent of the country.

Although there is no longer a penalty for guessing on either the PSAT or the SAT, what most families are not aware of is that the PSAT has a maximum score of 1520, not the 1600 of  the SAT. My message is: Don’t stress about this score – use the information to address your student’s weak areas prior to taking the SAT.

2. Understand what to do with the booklet: The booklet is the actual test, and your student can compare it to the right and wrong answers on the score report. Doing this shows whether incorrect answers were a careless mistake, or if your student doesn’t understand a concept in order to do better on the SAT.

Once this analysis is done, make a list of the missed questions that s/he doesn’t understand and go to the appropriate teacher for an explanation of the concept. Frankly, the PSAT does this online for you if you know which buttons to click.

3. Know that the PSAT is not identical to the SAT: The discrepancy between the two tests lies in the Writing section. There is no essay on the PSAT. The PSAT Writing section is simply a grammar test. Therefore, students who do not understand grammar will do quite poorly on this section of the PSAT.

On the other hand, your student may have respectable essay writing skills in the sense that s/he can make a point and support it in a written argument, which will raise the Writing score on the SAT.

This is not to say that grammar is unimportant; it’s very important. Unfortunately, we have not stressed grammar in schools for many years, and students are bearing the brunt of this decision. I advise students who want to do well to get a basic grammar book and study. Ask your English teacher to help you if you don’t understand. Practice writing a standard five paragraph persuasive essay and apply this skill to the SAT.

4. Realize that if you don’t read regularly, you will not do well on the Critical Reading section: Reading is a skill that must be developed over time. When students proudly announce to me that they “Hate reading” or “Never read,” I suggest that they do 20 minutes of reading each night before bed and build up to at least 45 minutes of sustained reading in order to build the skill.

It doesn’t matter what your student reads, just that he or she is reading. Just PSAT test scoresas muscles will be weak without working out, reading will be weak without practice. Unless the student reads regularly, she or he will not be able to read quickly or with understanding and this will have a profound effect not only on the SAT score, but also on the likelihood of success in college where there is so much reading to be done often without feedback except for the test on the material.

The PSAT is a great tool but, like many tools, few understand how to properly use it for maximum effect. I hope that you will use it correctly and enhance your skills before the SAT. If you’d like more information on the PSAT or SAT/ACT tests, please contact me today!

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