If you’re a high school sophomore (or the parent of one), and if your high school offers its 10th graders the option to take the PSAT, you may be grappling with the decision: is the PSAT worth the time? Do my scores matter? Will the experience actually benefit me?

We’ll address these question in Q&A format.


1. Do I (does my sophomore) need to take the PSAT?

No. The PSAT (whether you’re a sophomore or a junior, in fact) is not required, and deciding not to take it will not have any negative effects on your college admissions decisions. 

2. Do sophomore-year PSAT scores matter?

It depends what you mean by matter.

Unless you’re applying to a specialized program (e.g., academic summer camp) that uses sophomores’ PSAT scores in its admissions decisions, or you’re an elite student-athlete being pursued by college/university athletic directors who want an early glimpse into their prospective athletes’ standardized test scores, sophomore-year PSAT scores don’t “count” for anything.

This, however, doesn’t mean they don’t matter. When considered in the appropriate context, sophomore-year PSAT scores can be revealing and helpful. More on this later.

3. Will the PSAT be worth my (my sophomore’s) time?

Provided they put forth a full effort, sophomores will derive benefit from taking the PSAT in the following ways.

(a) They will gain first exposure to a test unlike any other they’ve seen before. The SAT is a unique beast: it tests content from years back in ways that are different than students are used to seeing. Given this fact, an early experience with the PSAT can help sophomores better frame the test and understand what they’ll be up against.

(b) They will start thinking seriously about the college applications/admissions process. Everyone knows that the SAT is a means to an end: getting into college. Even though sophomores don’t need to dive head-first into college planning, it’s great for them to begin seeing college as something on the immediate horizon, and not as a far-off, “someday” reality.

(c) They will get an early indication of any skills that are seriously lacking. Sophomore-year PSAT scores must be taken with a grain of salt, as 10th-grade students often haven’t learned enough (especially in math) to perform optimally. That said, much of what the SAT tests is foundational; a seriously low score on one section or another, then, can indicate an academic weakness that must be addressed. It’s advantageous to recognize areas of improvement sooner than later.

Should Sophomores Prepare for the PSAT?

Each year, we get calls from parents concerned about their sophomores’ readiness for the PSAT. Each year, we say the same thing: because the sophomore-year PSAT scores are largely inconsequential, the only “prep” sophomores should be doing is getting familiar with the structure of the test, and perhaps with a few basic strategies for handling pacing and certain common question types. Sophomores do not need extensive PSAT tutoring; they do not need intense coaching; they do not need to divert huge chunks of time away from their schoolwork and toward the PSAT. They should simply do something short and sweet to learn what they're going to see on test day.

Summary

The sophomore-year PSAT can be the perfect vehicle for beginning to consider college admissions and gaining exposure to the SAT, an exam that still holds great sway in the admissions game. If your school offers the PSAT to sophomores, go for it!