Ten Tips for Maximizing PSAT Scores

1. Know the Background and Purpose of the PSAT/NMSQT

Once two separate tests, the PSAT and NMSQT have long been combined into a single exam taken by high school students in October of their junior year. While the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is, for the most part, a warm-up for the SAT, it is also an introduction for many students to high-stakes testing and a way for students to qualify for National Merit Scholarships and/or National Merit recognition. Typically, to qualify for National Merit recognition (that may lead to scholarships), PSAT/NMSQT test scores must up near the 98th percentile in their state.

2. Know the Content of the PSAT/NMSQT

The PSAT/NMSQT measures skills in three academic areas: critical reading, mathematics, and grammar. Critical reading skill is measured across two question types: sentence completions and reading passages. Mathematics questions are drawn from arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra and geometry. There are two types of mathematics questions: multiple choice and grid-ins (where students must write in the correct answer). There are three types of grammar questions: Identifying Sentence Errors, Improving Sentences, and Improving Paragraphs.

3. Do NOT Omit Questions

When should you omit PSAT questions? Never! That is because the structure of the PSAT test makes even random guessing a no-lose situation. Further, the PSAT has so many answers that are obviously wrong that every guess is sure to be far better than a random one. Learn how to eliminate obviously wrong answers, then, make your best guess based on your understanding of the question. If you guess correctly more than 1 out of every 5 guesses, you gain points that would have been lost had you omitted.

4.Reading Strategy: Do not pre-read reading passages.

Reading questions are in the order of the passage. So, answer one question at a time. Skip general questions and answer them last.

5. Math Strategy: Believe Your Eyes!

PSAT math figures are drawn to scale unless otherwise indicated! So, use your eyes to solve some geometry and number line questions. This strategy can save a lot of time!

6.Writing Strategy: Know what the PSAT tests and what it doesn’t test.

Expect to be tested on the difference between a comma and a semicolon. However, you will never be tested on the difference between a semicolon and a colon. Expect to be tested on the difference between its and it’s and whose and who’s.

7. General Strategy: Don’t take the PSAT lightly!

Treat each and every question as though it were your key to success. Treat each question like a micro-version of the PSAT, actively seeking its unique tricks, traps and/or clues. Solve one at a time, giving each and every question a solid, thorough and thoughtful effort. If you come out of the PSAT thinking it was easy, then most likely you have not applied maximum effort and thus have not done as well as you can. If you come out feeling like you’ve just been through a series of battles – then you have probably done your best!

8. General Strategy: Use Chyten’s Three Laws of PSAT Motion to Motivate You

Chyten’s First Law:

An object at rest tends to stay at rest, until acted upon by another force.

Interpretation: Higher PSAT scores don’t just happen – they result from hard work and application. Start the process now. Once in motion, don’t stop thinking about your success and what it will take to achieve it until the very moment your test is over.

Chyten’s Second Law:

The greater the mass of an object, the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate the object.

Interpretation: How high can your PSAT scores go? The answer is up to you. Hard work yields high scores. This axiom applies to your studies and to your actions on the actual test. Work hard leading up to the test, then work hard on the test. The greater the improvement you desire, the more effort you must put into the process.

Chyten’s Third Law:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction:

Interpretation: Hard work yields results. The amount of work you apply to this project will ultimately determine the magnitude of your success.

9. Be Smart – Not Afraid

Never be afraid to choose an answer that contains a word you don’t know. These are often correct answers.  Be an active tester. Work as hard as you can for the time you are there, and don’t be afraid of guessing. The PSAT is a guessing test – but make sure to put yourself in a position to make the best possible guess!

10. Don’t Worry. Be Happy!

Take the test with PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). Work hard, but have fun, like you do when solving a crossword puzzle or a word scramble. After all, colleges NEVER see your PSAT score! This one’s for you, not for them!