The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is a test conducted by the College Board in the US (the same organization that administers the SAT). It is taken by students across the world who want to get an idea of the SAT format and difficulty level well before they take the actual SAT. In India, many students take the PSAT in Grade 10 or 11. Though there is no compulsion to take this test for admission to colleges in the United States, if you earn a high score on the test you do qualify for National Merit Scholarship and that can provide an important competitive edge during admissions.
Why should you take the PSAT?
Forewarned is forearmed:
As a student in India, you are not immersed on a day-to-day basis in the US school education system, of which the SAT is a natural product. However, if you take the PSAT, you will be able to get a good idea of what the SAT is like and orient your SAT thinking and preparation according to your PSAT experience
To find out where you stand:
The PSAT is your first large-scale opportunity to test yourself against not just Indians but a global cohort of students who will one day vie for the same seats as you will when they take the SAT. Finding out your relative standing and strength vis-a-vis this competition gives you a clear idea of where you need to improve before your big SAT exam
To assess your own skills:
Even though during your preparation, you will be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses, the PSAT will let you evaluate these in detail. Once you get your PSAT report, you can concentrate on the areas where you need improvement, and spend a year (or more) to fix all your weaknesses, so that you face the SAT with complete confidence in every facet of your test prep. The PSAT provides a detailed breakdown of the skills needed to answer every question. Once you receive an incredibly detailed report on your performance as a whole, you will easily be able to chart an improvement plan. There is currently no other way to get such granular feedback on your skills at the school level, so it makes sense to take advantage of the framework you are given, with the PSAT
To familiarize yourself with the SAT question formats:
The PSAT is modelled, in many ways, on the SAT template. Therefore, by taking the PSAT, you will make sure that your future SAT experience is not completely strange and new to you
To start receiving college info and news:
When you take the PSAT, you will be able to subscribe to updates from the College Search Service; this will give you a steady stream of relevant information from your colleges of interest, right up to the point at which you give your SAT and complete your applicants. Immersing yourself in the world of your interest will both positively impact your motivation levels, and enable you to make a more informed decision when the time comes to apply to the best colleges in the world
You can take the PSAT even if you are not sure of taking the SAT:
Many students, especially in India, take the PSAT even though they may never take the SAT. This helps them compare their scholastic skills against a global cross-section of candidates from their peer group. In addition, it gives them an idea of what the SAT might be like so that they can make a more informed choice down the road. Even if you are not sure whether you’re applying for a university in India or abroad, taking the PSAT is a good choice. Many Indian universities have adopted standardized tests similar to the SAT, and the PSAT can be a useful way for you to prepare yourself for those tests as well
To give yourself a proven edge on the SAT:
All the research proves that SAT takers who have taken the PSAT in the past have a score that is 100-200 points higher than those who have not. The statistical evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of taking the PSAT to give yourself a better chance at cracking the SAT
What is the structure of the PSAT? What is the syllabus?
The PSAT has two main sections: Reading and Writing, and Math. You will get a score between 160 and 760 in each section. Therefore, the maximum score you can get on the PSAT is 1520. The majority of the test – in both sections – has Multiple Choice questions, but four questions in the Math section will require you to fill in answers on a grid.
The First Section
The first section within the PSAT has to do with Reading and Writing skills. The Reading section is very similar to that in the SAT. You will have to read and understand multiple passages in the lowest possible time, and then answer MCQs based on the main idea of the passages, on information contained in them, and on word meanings and phrase meanings in different contexts. The PSAT reading section is an invaluable way to gain exam experience before the SAT, especially for Indian students. Given that our Indian school exercises test writing and information regurgitation more than analytical reading, the PSAT simulation is invaluable as a precursor to success in the SAT.
The Evidence-Based Reading section of the PSAT will contain some data interpretation questions. These might involve diagram interpretation but will not need explicit mathematics usage. This, too, will help you get oriented correctly for the SAT.
The Writing and Language part of the first section tests your ability to read a given piece of information, identify flaws in it (in case they are present), and correct any such inaccuracies. There are many different question types within this. Important types include questions that ask you to improve the way that an argument presents evidence and questions that ask you to make a better choice of words, given their context. You might also be asked to edit sentences or short passages so that they achieve their objective in a better way. Finally, there will be a series of grammar-based questions, that test your usage of punctuation, agreement of verb with the subject, and so on.
The Second Section
The second section of the PSAT tests Math skills. The topics here are heavily based on your school mathematics syllabus from the past few years. However, there is an emphasis on the practical and real-world usage of concepts. Whether the question is on arithmetic, algebra, or geometry, there is a focus on problem-solving. Most topics are the same as those in the SAT. There is a part of the Math test where calculators are not allowed, but these questions often have a hidden shortcut that simplifies the calculation down to a trivial level.
Each question in the Math Section is in one of three areas (these also appear in the SAT): Heart of Algebra (primarily focusing on linear equations and linear systems), Problem Solving and Data Analysis (where you will draw conclusions from graphs, charts, and tables), and Passport to Advanced Math (which features more complicated equations than those in the Heart of Algebra Section).
Most questions – about ⅚ of the total – in the Math section are all Multiple Choice. However, a few questions require you to fill in the answer (using a Grid) rather than choose the answer out of a set of options. This, again, is an ideal way for you to use the PSAT for practice in advance so that nothing in the SAT feels new or strange.
It will be clear from the syllabus and test structure information above that the PSAT syllabus is not very different from the SAT syllabus, and that the test structure is very very similar. In fact, the main syllabus differences occur in the Math section, where some advanced topics in Algebra, for example, are not tested in the PSAT. This further clarifies our point that the PSAT is a very rare resource: a competitive exam on the lines of the SAT, a true mock test, that is actually conducted by the same organization, thereby giving it great authenticity.
How can you make sure of doing really well on the PSAT?
The PSAT is a rare test where there is very little pressure but there is however enough incentive to take it seriously. The highest performers on the test qualify for a significant scholarship amount and even if you are not, you still can become a Commended Scholar which will certainly be an immense morale boost for the SAT. If in case you do not do so well, you learn where you need to improve. In either case, you get invaluable experience before you take the actual SAT. PSAT scores are not sent to universities, so they do not affect your chances of college admission.
Having said that, it’s always best to get your highest possible score on the PSAT. Here are a few key success factors:
Take practice tests
Just like the SAT, the PSAT also gets easier as you get more familiar with question formats and types. You can find a few test resources on the PSAT site, including a test simulator. If you find an institute for test prep, which is recommended, you will be able to access multiple full-length mock tests.
Give yourself enough time to prepare:
Whether you give your PSAT in Grade 9, 10 or 11, you will have a hundred other commitments. Some candidates think that because the PSAT is not shared directly with universities, that it can be taken lightly and given without preparation. However, this will mean that you do not get the full benefit of the test, and are not exposed to an SAT-like experience well in advance of the actual SAT. If you give the PSAT your best shot, you will be investing in the future, so that your SAT scores are as high as possible.
You can, if you wish, give the PSAT multiple times. It is offered only once a year (in October). but many students give the PSAT once in Grade 9 and then again in Grade 10, or in Grade 10 and 11 (if they are not attempting the SAT in Grade 11). A majority of students only give the PSAT once, but some students want to see if there is a measurable improvement on an area that was identified as a weakness in their earlier PSAT attempt. As with any PSAT attempt, a second try at the test does not affect your standing with the College Board, or your chances of getting into a particular university, in the slightest degree.
How do you register for the PSAT?
Most students take the PSAT via their school. In the unlikely event that your school cannot administer the PSAT, there is no need to worry. You can use the resources on the College Board site to find a nearby school through which you can register for the PSAT.
You can also directly contact USIEF (via usief.org.in) to register for the PSAT at one of their centres across India. Currently, USIEF centres are located in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai, though other centres might be available as PSAT centres from time to time. No matter what, you will be able to find a way to register for the PSAT.
- The first step is to ask your career counsellor at school about the PSAT registration deadlines. This will have to be done well in time. The PSAT is conducted in October every year, so schools typically have a deadline in August or September. In 99% of cases, your school will inform you about this, so there is no need to worry.
- The second step will vary according to your school. Registration procedures are twofold: your school will have to send your personal data and your registration fee ($17) to the College Board. However, the mode of collection of data and the exact fee collected per student will vary, based on the procedure adopted to collect data, and the administrative costs incurred on the same. Usually, these steps have been standardized over years – so, don’t worry, just follow the instructions that your school gives you, and you should be fine.
The information above can be summarized as your school will take care of, and guide you through, the entire registration process, provided they are registered as a PSAT location. You only need to check if this is the case and find out the timelines that you are required to follow. The registration process is often much easier than that of other standardized tests, because a lot of the procedure is taken care of by your school, and you don’t have to worry about getting things wrong. Just make sure that you keep yourself free in October to give the test, and relatively free in the three months before October to spend time on preparation and mock tests.
The SAT takers of tomorrow are the PSAT takers of today. Millions of school students across the world will take the PSAT this year, and every year, to improve their chances of a high score on the SAT. If you want to, one day, get into the best schools in the US, a good first step might be to arm yourself with prior knowledge and skills, by taking the Preliminary SAT. In case you want to know more about this exam, and about how you can do well in your first exposure to the College Board, please do get in touch. Jamboree is happy to help!