PSAT tips.
September 14, 2006 1:45 PM   Subscribe

My little brother (sophomore) is going to take the PSAT next month. What resources, books, websites, advice, techniques, etc. should I send his way so he can do his best?
posted by lychee to Education (20 answers total)
He should take one of the prep courses, like Princeton Review.
posted by caddis at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2006

He doesn't need to do anything. The PLAN (aka the psat) measures his Aptitude, or what he can learn, not what he already knows. As long as he's paying attention in his classes he should do fine. Good luck.
posted by mynameismandab at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2006

I took it a couple or years ago as a sophomore, then as a junior. While you can get scholarships for doing very, very well, it's more of a practice for the SAT and/or ACT. I'd recommend looking up the different sorts of questions that appear on the test, as well as the rules (losing points for incorrect answers > I don't rememeber). And as a sophomore, you're not up for getting scholarships, anyway.

I'd personally use it as practice rather than worrying about doing well, especially if he's only a sophomore.
posted by Camel of Space at 2:45 PM on September 14, 2006

No prep necessary. Just take it as many times as you can afford before you take the SAT. Your score will improve every time you take it.
posted by peep at 2:49 PM on September 14, 2006

Any of the SAT prep books will be good for the PSAT as well. It's good to study these to get a feel for how the test will work, what common "trick" questions he'll encounter, etc. He should also take at least two practice tests.
FWIW, I studied for the PSAT, scored in the 99th percentile, and was a National Merit Scholar. This was huge money for college for me.
posted by Coffeemate at 2:49 PM on September 14, 2006

The P in PSAT stands for Preliminary. The point is that it is supposed to give the student a rough gauge as to how much studying will be necessary for the actual SAT and to point out the students strengths and weaknesses. (Among other reasons, see Here)

I was told specifically not to study, as this would give the best indication of what needs to be done to prepare for the test that actually counts.

That said, the most important thing when taking any standardized test is to be comfortable with the format. The only thing I would do to prepare for the PSAT would be to go to my local bookstore and browse through the PSAT prep books to get a sense of how the test is structured.

Also, make sure he doesn't stress and gets a good night sleep the few nights before the test.
posted by Charlie Brown at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2006

A month isn't a lot of time to prep. I think the people who try to cram prep into that kind of window end up increasing their anxiety much more than their capability.

The sophomore PSAT isn't super important; it's the junior year PSAT that's used as the National Merit qualifer. Still, the score gets recorded on your College Board transcript, and on some high school transcripts as well, which means colleges may see it.

In the limited time available to him, I'd recommend doing the following:
1. Buy a prep book (they're all more or less the same; I'm not sure it matters which you choose)
2. Take a diagnostic exam and identify weaknesses
3. Work practice excercises in those areas
4. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If his weakness is math, books like Algebra/ Geometry for Dummies might be useful reviews. If he needs to work on vocabulary, flash cards (you can even buy premade ones) are probably the best bet. I believe it's even possible to get flash card-like SAT review programs for many kinds of cellphones.

The Princeton Review/ Kaplan courses are, I think, a waste of money (and a lot of money, at that) for all but the most underprepared kids. If he's taken the requisite classes and is motivated enough to read the Princeton Review/Kaplan books himself-- they cover the same material as the classes-- and regularly sit down with practice exams (the College Board used to publish books of actual old SATs; I'm not sure if they've done this with the new exam) then he'll be fine.
posted by chickletworks at 2:55 PM on September 14, 2006

I don't have a good suggestion for prep, but the PSAT does "matter" because it's the initial screen for National Merit Scholarship Program (if that sort of thing matters to your brother).
posted by cosmonaught at 2:57 PM on September 14, 2006

... and any National Merit Scholar would know to preview before posting...
posted by cosmonaught at 2:58 PM on September 14, 2006

All of the above advice is sound. Your brother should not put too much effort into preparing for the PSAT as a sophomore. Assuredly, the PSAT is incredibly significant for National Merit Scholar qualification, as a junior, not as a sophomore. The most important thing is getting a good night's sleep and a good meal in his belly, there isn't too much other prep work that he needs to worry about. His outcome/success from this exam will be an excellent indicator of what fields require his attention for when he takes it next year, when it counts.
posted by msali at 3:04 PM on September 14, 2006

speaking as someone who dominated the PSAT, let me tell you what I did:

In 10th grade, take it cold. Prepping for this test, while helpful, is kind of a disservice. I've noticed that my friends who prepared heavily for the 10th grade PSAT beat me, but then tailed off. We've often talked about this, and in hindsight, this is what we came up with:

their mothers and fathers forced them to study for the 10th grade one...after taking it and doing well, for the 11th grade one, they were never *quite* as motivated because they had done well, thus building up complacency.

Additionally, the 10th grade one does not count for national merit. Only the 11th grade one counts.

Between the summers of 10th and 11th grade, take the prep classes. Don't take Kaplan, I heartily recommend princeton review. Their class was amazing. I know others say that test prep courses don't do anything, but my 10th grade score (before prep) was a 197. That's good, but not great. My 11th grade score (after prep) was a 232. I attribute this solely to Princeton Review. What's great about the Princeton Review is that it's not strictly applicable to the SAT-it can apply to any and all future tests.

If you can't spring for the course, definitely buy the Princeton Review book and the book of old tests. Don't buy Barron's books. They are terrible. A good source of prep material may also be the library. Don't do flash cards for vocabulary. Kids hate them, and you'll end up trying to memorize 1000 words, of which 2 may be on the test. Your time is better spent studying strategies. If you really want to beef up vocab, encourage your brother to read more (esp. Time, Newsweek, etc.)

Lastly, dominating your PSAT will get you a full ride to most state schools. By dominating, I mean National Merit. This is usually a score of about 215. If your brother is close, push him hard because that'll save alot of $$$. If he's not, then just use the PSAT as a practice for the SAT and for seeing what his strengths and weaknesses are.

Lastly, studying for the SAT is a process. If your brother tries to cram, the battle is lost.
posted by unexpected at 3:17 PM on September 14, 2006

About 6 years ago I really liked the book Up Your Score. It's fun to read and has some useful tips and strategies (there's even a bit on the most efficient way to fill in those little answer bubbles--I kid you not. And it helps.) That plus a book of "10 Real SATS" plus the weekly SAT math review we did in school served me very, very well.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:27 PM on September 14, 2006

Probably should have mentioned, I took the PSAT as a sophomore and junior as well, and am not really freaking out about him doing super-high-well on this one, because I know it's the junior year one that matters. But I was a National Hispanic Scholar, which got me a lot of scholarships, so I want him to go down that road as well, if not more into National Merit.

Also, if he does well on this sophomore PSAT, then for his junior year, the school will provide practice and tutorial sessions for him and other high-scoring students.

Thanks all, it sounds like the PSAT hasn't changed much since I took it.
posted by lychee at 4:00 PM on September 14, 2006

The sole reason to worry about this test is the scholarship potential, and that may not even be a big deal depending on the circumstances.

Some 16,000 are chosen as Semifinalists, and if you don't have horrible grades, drop out of school, or go to jail, you become a Finalist. (This was the stage I reached.)

The National Merit people themselves give out 2,500 single-payment $2500 awards to Finalists. I wouldn't worry much about that $2500 award. When I was applying to college, the feeling seemed to be that these were given out mostly by picking names out of a hat. It's nice, but not a big scholarship. There are, however, other opportunities based on becoming a Semifinalist:

-The PSAT asks you for your first-choice college. If your first-choice college is in the program and you are admitted there, they can give you a scholarship. (So you should check out the list of sponsoring colleges here and if any are even under consideration they should be reported as first-choice - there's no point in picking a school that's not participating.)

-Corporations give out money according to their own rules, e.g. relationship to an employee, studying their field.

-The names of all semifinalists are sent out in a book. Based on being in this book, a ton of colleges that weren't official sponsors offered me their own scholarships, full rides, and automatic admission.

The catch is that the sponsoring colleges tend to be state schools or second-tier private schools while those offering me their own scholarships tend towards "third-tier," and frankly their mailings seemed a bit desparate. So, if the kid wants to attend an Ivy League, MIT, or Stanford, he's not getting any money unless he wins the $2500 crapshoot or fulfills a corporation's mysterious rules.

So I'd say the best thing to do is look through the list of sponsoring schools and if any seem likely, pick one and report it as first-choice. That report even lists how many awards each sponsoring school gives out, so you might want to pick one that does 50 instead of one that does 2.

Meanwhile, if it's quite unlikely he can be one of the top 16,000 scorers, just look at it as practice for the SAT.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:24 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I took the PSAT as a sophomore last year and am taking it next month as a junior. Basically, this one doesn't matter. At all. Don't let anyone tell him it does. Basically, it helps you figure out what your weak areas are and what sort of score you can expect if you've never taken the SAT/PSAT before. What's kind of cool about the PSAT is that you get your entire test booklet back along with a detailed score report that tries to pinpoint your weak areas. That alone is a pretty good review for the real PSAT.
Actually, I don't know if everyone gets a detailed score report/actual test booklet back. My school sponsored my test last year, so I got everything back through the school. YMMV
posted by MadamM at 5:19 PM on September 14, 2006

That is the issue, kids who can get a scholarship are probably already headed off to better schools.

As for the courses, all the serious kids will be taking them. Years ago no one did but the hyper nervous or for remedial purposes. Now, failing to take the course puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Not so necessary for PSAT, but definitely recommended for the real SAT, especially for the new writing section. Figure out the system and you will definitely raise your score.
posted by caddis at 5:29 PM on September 14, 2006

I did very very well on the PSAT without prepping, but I kind of wish I had taken at least one course because totally acing it would have been very cool. All the kids who were intellectually mediorce but who took either Kaplan or Princeton Review performed much better than expected. Like it or not, they work.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:44 PM on September 14, 2006

I would just like to clarify TheOnlyCoolTim's post...only National Merit Scholars get the $2500, not National Merit Finalists. Once you're a semifinalist, it's almost automatic that you'll become a Finalist...16,000 people get Semi-Finalist, 15,000 get Finalist, but only 7000-8000 actually win.

I know this is irrelevant to the question, but I guess just for the archives.
posted by unexpected at 6:13 PM on September 14, 2006

The best (FREE!) online resource for studying for standardized exams,:!. Not specifically targetted for PSAT but the SAT prep should help and the Vocab section will be good.

GRE score after studying at Number2: 1560/1600 (760 Verbal / 800 Math)

Good luck!
posted by onalark at 6:26 PM on September 14, 2006

lots of sleep day before.
lots of coffee day of.
if he's anything like me, he is deathly in the early AM.
starbucks doubleshots are handy for this (bring 4 to the test)
they let you bring them into the test room if you dont touch them, so drink them during breaks...
keeps you sharp
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 7:19 PM on September 14, 2006

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