Many families understand that the PSAT is a preparation exam for the SAT, so they don’t think preparing for it is needed. However, many of the parents in our Facebook group Paying for College 101 say quite the opposite.
Preparing for the PSAT by using free resources, exam books, and even paid tutoring can pay off big in the long run. Your student will be well-prepared for the SAT, and doing extremely well on the PSAT can get your child additional merit aid if they qualify as a National Merit Scholar.
Here’s what you need to know about preparing for the PSAT!
Determine Your Goals
Knowing exactly what you’re shooting for will help you decide what level of investment is appropriate. Have your student prepare for and take the PSAT 10. If they do extremely well, it’s worth investing in higher level prep or tutoring to move them into National Merit Scholarship territory on the junior year PSAT.
If they do alright, or do well but not excellent, there’s nothing wrong with that. Continue to help them prepare, but focus on how it will impact their SAT score.
Here’s what one parent in our group said:
“When my son (my 2nd child) took the PSAT 10, I realized he had the potential for national merit with a little focus. So I used a tutor for English from the end of August for about 4 weeks.
He suggested my son take the real SAT the week before the PSAT 11. This worked to our advantage. He tried harder and got the jitters out of his system for the actual PSAT after taking the SAT the weekend before.
He also took an ACT prep class with the same tutor. He took the ACT later that same month. The end result: SAT 1500. PSAT 1490 with an index score of 222. ACT 35. Determined to do better, he took the SAT again and got a 1560.
Now we’re waiting to hear what the index score is for NY state for National Merit to see if he qualifies!”
Even if your student doesn’t qualify for National Merit, PSAT prep can be a good idea. Another parent had this story:
“My daughter did prep for the PSAT. She is a very good test taker and we thought it was possible she might get National Merit so she did four sessions with an SAT tutor. It helped, but she missed National Merit by one question (we are in MD which is one of the hardest states to get it). Very happy that we did it. It helped her get started prepping for the SAT generally and made her feel less stressed about the whole process.”
SAT Prep Books
Because the PSAT and SAT cover the same subject areas, you can use SAT prep books to study for the PSAT. Some good options include the Princeton Review SAT book, Barron’s SAT prep books, and the SAT Prep Black Book
Make sure you use SAT prep books that are for the post-2016 version of the exam. Both the PSAT and SAT changed a lot, and you don’t want to prepare for the wrong thing!
You can also choose prep books that help your student improve specific subject areas, such as reading, math, or writing. Barron’s has some excellent options for these areas.
Books can have a big impact. Here’s what one of our Facebook group parents shared:
“My niece missed the National Merit cutoff by mere points several years ago. They did not know to prep for the test. My older brother advised me to have my kids prep for it as they are strong test takers.
Oldest took PSAT for practice in 10th grade and was in the 97% with a 1350. He did a self-study and then an online Kaplan PSAT course the summer and fall before 11th-grade PSAT. He ended up focusing on official practice PSAT tests (free) and studying on his own at the end. That was when he saw a big jump in scores. He ended up with an 11th grade PSAT score of 1480 and an SI of 221. His later ACT and SAT scores were also in the 99+percentile range.
This is a game changer for our family. While he will throw his hat in the ring for scholarships at two non-National Merit Finalist schools, he also knows he now has an almost-free ride to complete free ride at several schools that he would be very happy to attend. This means his college fund can move over to finish his much younger sibling’s college fund.”
Online SAT Prep
There are a ton of great online preparation tools as well. You can find official SAT practice tests on the College Board website for free, along with College Board approved free prep through the Khan Academy.
Kaplan offers some PSAT study materials for free as well. For mobile users, the College Board also has an SAT practice app that your student can use to get daily practice questions and get explanations of the correct answers.
Speaking of apps, Ready4 SAT for iPhone or Android is one of the best. It has 60 SAT lessons, hundreds of flashcards, and thousands of realistic practice questions. While this won’t be the only resource your student should use, it’s a great on-the-go option to reinforce the book learning.
Beyond the free or inexpensive resources, there are many online sites that offer paid SAT preparation, such as the Princeton Review SAT program and Barron’s SAT prep. Be sure to carefully compare the costs and features before making a purchase.
Books or Tutoring?
One of the important things to keep in mind is that learning from PSAT or SAT prep books will be less expensive, but it also requires your student to be very self-motivated. It’s also possible that your teen doesn’t learn well from books.
If your child has a different learning style or struggles to focus on their own, paid tutoring (either online or in person) may be best. You’ll need to get recommendations, talk to their previous clients, and carefully compare what you’re getting before you commit to a program. Most of all, it has to be someone your student connects with!
Again, this is most important if your student is shooting for National Merit status. Otherwise, your student can just focus on getting a good enough score on the SAT to get into a preferred school. One parent that chose not to prep shared this story:
“My 2 kids did not prep and it’s a long shot that we don’t regret. One would never have prepped enough and would have been more anxious. The other may have done better but with everything going on at that time between activities and a sports injury would have made it difficult.”
Find a Generous College Offering Merit Scholarships!
The point of all this work to prepare for the PSAT is to qualify for more merit based aid or merit scholarships. Many National Merit Semifinalists and Finalists find that certain schools will offer significant scholarships simply because they won the designation.
Are you interested in finding the most generous schools for your student? Check out our Merit Scholarship Toolkit today!
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