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April 4th, 2019

PSAT Primer for Accelerated Students

Everyone knows that high SAT or ACT scores can be rewarded with scholarships, tuition assistance and other great benefits. But the PSAT can also be worth money if you test exceptionally well. Standardized testing is a part of every high school student’s path to college. For strong students who are accelerated in their coursework, preparing for an SAT or ACT before taking the PSAT can be a savvy option. Besides getting an early start on test preparation before junior year becomes busy with AP work and extracurricular activities, early test prep can also ready a student for the PSAT and possible National Merit recognition and money.

About 1.6 million U.S. students take the PSAT each year. However, only scores achieved during junior year are eligible for National Merit rewards. If you score in the top 3 to 4% of PSAT test takers in your state, you move on to the Commended Scholar level. Every state’s required score is different and changes each year, depending on what scores are produced that given year. “Commended Scholar” is a nice line on your college application resume and your PSAT journey is over.

But let’s say you score really well and are in the top 1% of your state’s test takers – congratulations! You are then considered one of about 16,000 National Merit Semifinalists. That’s an even better line to put on your application, just from scoring exceptionally well on the PSAT.

Here is the tricky part. Those 16,000 National Merit Scholars are asked to take either the SAT or ACT and score high enough to validate that their PSAT score wasn’t a fluke. (ACT option just added for the class of 2020!) Also, there is an application package to complete which includes an essay.

About 8,000 (or half) of these National Merit Scholars will be given money. Some will earn $2,500 as a one time payment, straight from the National Merit organization. Some will get money right from their intended college. Others can earn money from corporate sponsors – typically $10,000 divided into four payments. Colleges may even reward National Merit Finalists in addition to the student getting a corporate scholarship. Click here for more information about the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Here’s where early test preparation can help a serious student excel not only on the SAT/ACT, but also with the PSAT. In my personal experience, my son took an ACT preparation course at the end of his sophomore year and got a great first score on the June ACT. With additional preparation and practice, he achieved a perfect score on the ACT in the fall of his junior year. When he tried the PSAT, it was easier because he already knew how to attack a standardized test. He seriously prepared for these tests and was rewarded for his efforts. First, a presidential scholarship from University at Buffalo, then as a National Merit Scholar, and finally, with an additional $1500 award by the college when the National Merit money was applied during his freshman year. It certainly added up!  Additionally, prepping early in junior year avoids a heavy load in the spring during AP exam testing and finals.

The PSAT can be more than a warm-up for the SAT, it can be an avenue to additional accolades and money for college. If your teen is accelerated in their high school coursework and ready to diligently prepare for college testing, Test Preps can help! Contact us well before their junior year to talk about how they can benefit from early preparation for the SAT or ACT.

*Thank you to my colleague D. Cicero for sharing her wealth of knowledge and her son’s PSAT experience in this guest post!

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