7 tips for taking the PSAT/NMSQT

On Wednesday Oct. 15, high school juniors and many sophomores will get their first taste of standardized testing for college when they take the PSAT/NMSQT.

That’s a lot of letters. It stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT/NMSQT is co-sponsored by the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Colleges will not see students’ PSAT scores unless their score qualifies them for scholarships and recognition through the National Merit Scholarship Corp. and the National Hispanic Recognition Program. So, there is no need for students to be anxious about taking the test. However, students who have performed well on standardized tests in the past would be well served by prepping for this test.

The PSAT/NMSQT is good practice for the SAT and helps students get comfortable with the testing format. At 2 hours, 10 minutes, the PSAT is roughly half the length of the SAT. The PSAT has five sections: two 25-minute critical reading sections, two 25-minute math sections and one 30-minute writing skills section.

Unlike the SAT, the PSAT has no essay. The test provides personalized feedback for students, specifying skill strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing the feedback is one of the smartest things students can do to improve their test scores. Students can take free PSAT/NMSQT practice questions on the College Board website.

Strategies for the PSAT/NMSQT

1. Know when to guess and when to pass. The PSAT, like the SAT, penalizes students a quarter point for each incorrect response. General testing wisdom says that if a student can eliminate at least one answer in a multiple choice question, it is worth taking an educated guess. Random guessing is discouraged. According to the College Board website, “getting only half the questions right and not answering the rest will still earn an above-average score.”

2. Read the instructions carefully and don’t assume you know the format of the test.

3. Use the test book as scratch paper for your calculations.

4. Be sure to read ALL the answer choices before making a decision and marking your answer sheet.

5. Manage your time. All questions have the same value (harder questions don’t earn more points). Don’t waste time on difficult questions. Make a mark in the book and come back if time allows.

6. Check the answer sheet to be certain you are filling in the correct response.

7. Come prepared. Know what you can bring and what you can’t. You can bring two No. 2 pencils with erasers and an approved calculator (check the website). You can’t bring food, beverages, dictionaries, rulers, compasses, pamphlets/papers, highlighters, or devices for listening, recording, copying or taking photos (including watches and cellphones with cameras).