So your student has taken the PSAT, and will soon receive his or her results. All along, you may have heard that the PSAT "isn't important", and that its purpose is to simply "show students where they stand". But consider this: why would millions of students take an exam that's pointless? There's more to the story.

 What Do We Mean by "Matter"?

The people who say the PSAT "doesn't matter" aren't being purposely untruthful: they're just looking at the exam from a narrow viewpoint of what it means for something to "matter". It is true that, for most students, the PSAT score doesn't "count" for anything: it will not show up on their academic transcripts, and won't be considered during the college admissions process. Except for the very small percentage of students whose PSAT scores are high enough to earn them National Merit Scholarships, the PSAT doesn't "give" students anything material. 

All this, however, does not mean the scores your student receives are irrelevant or useless. Buried in those three scores (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) is valuable information about your student's academic strengths, weaknesses, and potential. 

Using PSAT Scores Intelligently: Evaluate, Plan, Execute

When you receive your student's PSAT scores, the first step is to evaluate them. The score report will show your student's scores along the top, and will compare those scores to those of other students by citing your student's percentile rank for each score. It will also classify each section's questions by category and difficulty level. Is your student much stronger or weaker in one section than the others? Are there noticeable areas of strength and weakness within sections? kids-thumb_(1)

Take an hour to sit with your student and look through the correct and incorrect answers, especially for the easy- and medium-level problems. Try to determine the source(s) of your student's difficulties. Are they rooted in understanding the problems? Making careless errors? Timing issues? Simply forgetting content from years ago? Help your student create a goal list of the five most important points to improve upon before the real SAT.

The next step is to use your evaluation to plan. There are many resources available to help your student improve his or her skills before taking the SAT. Your school may subscribe to the prep resources on; you may consider private tutoring or enrolling in a prep course. You may even decide to have your student try his or her hand at the ACT, which has become a great alternative to the SAT for many students. Whatever your decision, it should be based on logic. Helping students plan a logical test-taking timeline is what we do every day: Call us if you are feeling overwhelmed!

The final step is execution. We've written in the past that succeeding on standardized tests is as much about hard work and diligence as it is about raw academic ability. No matter what prep method you and your student decide to pursue, grab the bull by the horns and work hard at it: ask questions of your course instructor; use your tutor as a strategic resource; practice, practice, practice by taking real exams and working with authentic testing materials. Put in the effort, and the rewards are likely to follow.

IN SUMMARY: Take Advantage of the PSAT Score Report!

Here's the important takeaway: do NOT let the PSAT score report become a torn and wrinkled mess fused with the bottom of your student's backpack. Instead, carve out some time to consider the scores carefully. Parents and students who use their PSAT results to formulate a thoughtful plan will thank themselves later for their foresight and its positive impact on the students' ultimate SAT scores.

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