Top 3 PSAT Prep Strategies
The PSAT is held in October of each year and our students have been hard at work prepping for the test. If you are just getting started, here are a few things to know as well as the top 3 PSAT prep strategies.
- The PSAT for most students is used as a practice SAT. Scores on the PSAT do not factor in the college admissions process.
- The National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSQT) uses PSAT scores as one of the factors to determine awards. To participate in this program, 11th graders must take the PSAT.
- The PSAT is only given in October and is open to 9th, 10th and 11th graders.
- Over 3 million students take the PSAT each year.
Why Should I Take The PSAT
Since the PSAT has no bearing on college admissions, students are encouraged to test in 9th and 10th grades to understand their academic strengths and weaknesses. Skills like analytical reading, grammar, and math reasoning take time to develop. Taking the PSAT early gives you more time to fix glaring problems.
Top 3 PSAT Prep Strategies
- Tip #1: Know when and how to guess.
Since there is no penalty for selecting the wrong answer, never leave an answer blank. Here are a few rules to optimize your guessing strategy. First, unless you have run out of time, try to use the process of elimination to get rid of at least one answer choice. On most PSAT questions, particularly the most complex questions, there will be one answer choice that looks very obvious. Remember complex and difficult problems do not have simple and obvious answer choices; otherwise, they would not be complex and difficult problems!
Second, for PSAT scoring, there are only correct and incorrect answers. ∑ngenius students are taught there are correct, incorrect, and bad answers. Your score on the PSAT will go up considerably if you approach the test looking for bad answers first, then incorrect answers. Because there are three wrong answers and only one right answer on each question, looking for the wrong answers first increases your odds of getting the question correct.
Third, when in doubt, guess randomly. Most test prep tutors teach you to select the same answer choice. Math proves them wrong! Check out this link to understand why random guessing is better. If you don’t want to read something that complex, take it from me, guess randomly if you can’t solve any part of the problem.
- Tip #2: Pace yourself.
If you are not aiming for a perfect score, then you can slow down a bit and answer the questions you know how to do, and guess randomly on the ones you run out of time for. Here’s why:
The PSAT has four sections (two verbal and two math). The Reading test is long (47 questions in 60 minutes). The Writing and Language test is much shorter, but you have to work faster on each problem (44 questions in 35 minutes). The Math – No Calculator section is 17 questions in 25 minutes. Though you have more than a minute per question, you may wish you had twice the amount of time. The Math – Calculator Allowed section is a long one to finish up the day with (31 questions in 45 minutes).
Ok, so you now know how much time on each section, what do you do with this information. First, you need to know how many questions to get correct for the score you want. If this is your first time taking a PSAT, you probably don’t have a goal score.
Here are a few ranges so you can set a goal: the national average for the test is approximately 500 Verbal and 500 Math. To score 500 per section, you need to answer correctly about half of the questions. To be in the top 10 to 15 % of all test takers, you need to answer correctly approximately 75% to 80% of all problems.
- Tip #3: the Math – No Calculator section requires thought.
I know what you are saying, don’t the other sections require thought? Yes, but this section challenges your reasoning ability more than the others, so you need to change your mindset. Here’s how:
- These aren’t your math teacher’s math problems! Look beyond what is stated and solve for every unknown. You often need to solve for one or two unknowns to find the missing link. It may be necessary to solve several parts of the problem that aren’t essential. Unfortunately, you won’t know that until it is too late.
- If there are only variables in the problem, make up your own numbers and substitute to help you solve the problem. For example, a problem may ask which is greater x and x2. At first, it appears to be x2 but what if you substituted in 0 or ½ the outcome is different. For these problems, numbers like 0, 1, 2, fractions and negative numbers all work well.
- If there are only numbers in the answer choices, use the answer choices to help you solve the problem. This “guess and check” method works great and often gets you the right answer very quickly.