Taking the PSAT

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Parent Q&A

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  • Where can a sophomore take the PSAT?

    (1 reply)

    Berkeley High will not let sophomores take the PSAT. Has anyone had success signing up their 10th-grader to take it at another school? 

    Hello, have you tried Albany High School or El Cerrito High School? Good luck!

  • Taking the PSAT more than once? Why?

    (6 replies)

    My daughter is a sophomore who took the PSAT this past fall. That sounded great to me and I think it was a good experience for her. But then I heard that other kids (sophomores and juniors) took it a second and even third time. My question is why? Is it not true that you can take the SAT more than once and colleges will use the one with the best score? What is the benefit of taking the PSAT more than once? Is it just to practice and review and try and do better? Why not just do that with the SATs if colleges will only look at the best one? I guess I just don't get it and would like to be enlightened. When I was in high school, I took the PSAT once and the SATs a couple of times. That was it.

    The PSAT is used to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship. For more information, see: https://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/images/gid2/editor_documents/studen...

     The only reason I can think of is if you think you have the potential to become a National Merit Scholar, and since the PSAT is the qualifying test for that, you might take it more than once to practice. 


    I'm an independent college counselor, and not a huge fan of testing, especially the PSAT. The only reason that makes sense to take the PSAT is for juniors that expect to do really well on it can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. The scholarship itself is only $2500, but winning the award, or just getting nominated, is (somewhat) impressive to colleges. Some colleges have their own scholarships that are only for NMS winners and/or nominees.

    At least back when I was in high school (Class of ‘90), eligilibity for National Merit Scholarships was determined by your percentile in the PSAT, but only scores from your junior year would count.  I think I only took it once, but if I’d taken it in 10th grade, I would have repeated just for that.  (People took these tests less, and did less test prep in those days.).  Even becoming a Semifinalist (scoring in the top 1%, I believe) is pretty valuable, for college admissions and other opportunities.   Obviously, becoming a Finalist or winning a Scholarship is even more so.   

    Only the PSAT in 11th grade counts for the national merit scholarship. The one in 10th is just a dry run.

    You can take the SAT more than once but there are colleges which want all, not just the best, scores. The website of each school will say if it accepts superscores or score choice or requires all scores. Some want but don't require them. The college board apparently also states which schools but I've heard their list is unreliable. I guess you could check about specific schools.

    Note also that many schools which are test optional want something else if you don't submit the test, which can be nontrivial.

    Better to take a practice sat test with a test prep company. Often these are free And then they use them to try to convince you to sign up for their tutoring. But I think in some cases the practice test is not a commitment to them (read the fine print :)!).
    Good luck!

    There is more than one path through the college admissions process. For example, some schools are test-optional. However, if your daughter is considering applying to a selective college, she will probably need to have good scores on either the SAT or ACT.  In this case, taking the PSAT twice offers several advantages.  

    • Your daughter will have some idea of what to expect from her SAT/ACT.  For this reason, two data points (sophomore and junior) scores are more informative than one. This will allow her to better evaluate how many times to take the SAT/ACT.  (To convert to approximate ACT scores, look at the percentages.)
    • Your daughter can use the two PSATs (again two are better than one) to identify her weaker areas and remedy these with test prep.
    • If your daughter is a high-performing student, she should take the PSAT junior year to qualify to be a National Merit Scholar.
    • Practice on standardized tests can help improve scores.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


My teen just bombed the PSAT : how to cope?

Dec 2012

My 11th-grade daughter just bombed the PSATs. How do I cope with this ? What do I say when she gets back from prep school (in a week) ? Her grades are excellent, but she certainly did not inherit my test-taking genes. I've only dealt with her academic success so far, not with this particular shortcoming. What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college, even after working hard ? Worried Mom.

The way that you cope with this is to recognize that standardized tests are just one way that students are evaluated. You are placing way too much importance on this one test.

You say that you are worried about how to cope if she doesn't get into an Ivy League school. What is that about? The Ivy League is a group of schools in the same athletic conference; they are certainly not the only schools that provide academic excellence. You seem overly focused on a brand name educational achievement for your daughter. Please take a look around and notice that many of the brilliant people you know did not go to Ivy League colleges. It's also true that entry to the Ivy League does not guarantee life success or happiness.

I value academic success and hard work and want my kid to go to the best colleges they can get into, but I really don't understand your point of view. It seems that you are setting up yourself and your daughter for a lot of dissatisfaction. I hope she can get advice from adults in her life whose estimation of her worth doesn't fall precipitously when one test score isn't up to snuff. Yes, I know I'm Judgmental About the Fact You're So Judgmental

Is this query in earnest or a joke? If it is serious it deserves a response: let her be. If she is achieving ''academic success'' at school, she is clearly doing her best, so why torture her? Perhaps simply asking her what happened without an accusatory or disappointed tone might reveal things that are going on in her life or issues she would like help dealing with?

In addition, does she want to go to an Ivy League school or do you want her to? Why, honestly? I ask this as both the mother of a teen who had the opposite configuration (top test scores; mediocre grades for refusing to do homework) and an Ivy League professor who also serves as freshman advisor and in graduate admissions in my university. I see many, many different kinds of students every cohort, including kids like your daughter.

From what little I know of genetics, only intelligence is innate -- the other two can be learned and even mimicked behaviors. Kids in this country are increasingly being taught to follow formulas to ''success'' that range from how to construct perfect -- albeit usually unoriginal -- essays to how to reach the correct answers on a test sheet. Although rewarded by high grades and test scores, neither of these activities measure actual ''brilliance.''

Moreover, did you know that test scores are not the paramount admissions consideration in many Ivy League universities? This is because we recognize that test-taking abilities, academic brilliance, intelligence are not the same thing. In fact, a kid with a perfect test score, grades and a high IQ might prove a less attractive candidate to a college admissions committee than another one whose grades and tests were ok, but whose sparkling mind shows through in an essay, art, scientific work, a performance, activism -- whatever.

I see all sorts of combinations of the three characteristics in our undergraduates -- perfect test scores followed by mediocre to poor academic performance; academic brilliance following low SAT scores; excellent test scores, brilliant academic performance but totally unremarkable intelligence; sparkling intelligence with poor academic and test performance -- you get the picture. In addition, factors such as undiagnosed learning disabilities, however mild, or depression and anxiety can greatly affect a kid's test scores and performance.

In other words, I'd say that when she gets home you don't tell, just ask, and talk -- lovingly. Ivy League Prof and mom

:: My 11th-grade daughter just bombed the PSATs. How do I cope with this?

Here are two things you might consider.

First, the PSAT doesn't matter one whit. Students often know this, and pay it little attention. So worrying about a low PSAT score is usually unwarranted, yet doing so certainly increases tension (which correlates with lower SAT scores later). So worrying is probably the worst thing you can do, along with conveying that worry to your daughter.

Second, what you consider low might not match what her best-match colleges consider low.

:: What do I say when she gets back from prep school (in a week)?

Well, if you say something that indicates that you're disappointed with or worried about her score, then that's what she'll likely hear, and that is likely to serve you both poorly. What about simply letting her know that you read the score report, and you're interested in knowing whether she thinks it's worth discussing?

:: What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college, even after working hard?

I think it may be helpful to be clear on this point: no amount of hard work -- *no* amount -- is a guaranteed admission into an Ivy League college today. If the Ivy League is your only acceptable goal for your daughter, then I'm afraid you are very likely to be disappointed, no matter who she is or what she is capable of.

Thankfully, most would agree that such an education is not a necessary part of a happy and successful life at this time. Indeed, being a smart and capable student without an admission to an Ivy League school would put your daughter in very good (and very plentiful) company. Wes

I believe there are some excellent LACs that don't require testing for admission(try a google search on that topic); a few I know about are Sarah Lawrence and Smith, and I know there are many others. No, they aren't Ivies, but they are excellent schools nonetheless.The college counselor at your daughter's school probably knows of many. My own daughter has not done particularly well on her tests, either, especially the math portion; she is intelligent, creative and talented in other areas. I'm confident she will find an excellent school that's a great fit for her. Having gone through the college search process once before with my older child ( who tested well and got into his top choice; different kid, different needs and interests) I'm a lot more relaxed this time. I am more aware of the multitude of fantastic schools out there, and how many options there are for all kinds of kids. And if your daughter does well as an undergrad she can attend an Ivy for grad school! Trying to remain relaxed, against all odds

It is hard to avoid thinking that this may be a joke submission because you are jumping to conclusions from one piece of data and seem to be overly focused on your genes and goals for a prestige college for your daughter. You didn't even consider that she might have been sick on the day of the PSAT or upset about something that interfered with her concentration. So certainly that would be the first thing to ask her about. If test-taking is actually hard for your daughter, then consider hiring a tutor to prepare her for the SAT's. Lot of people do this. And think hard and long about how invested you are in prestige and what type of messages you are giving to your daughter. Her strong grades are a wonderful accomplishment and will play an important role in college admission. Anonymous

''What do I do if she can't end up at an Ivy League college?'' Wow, are you serious? So, does that mean that everyone who did not attend an Ivy League school (which is most of us!) is a worthless failure? If your daughter attends a prep school and gets wonderful grades she must be doing something right. Many brilliant people are not great at taking tests. And many highly successful,intelligent, happy adults did not attend an Ivy League school. The fact that she didn't do well on the SAT practice test means nothing about her overall intelligence or ability to succeed in life. Please take a step back and think about what you wrote ''what do I do if she can't get into an Ivy League school'' This is what you do; give your daughter love and support, find out if she needs help learning the skill of test taking and accept her for who she is regardless of what school she may end up at. Heck, what if she doesn't even want to go straight to college! Please don't focus on test scores alone and start to appreciate your daughter for the unique individual that she is. Understand that she may have different challenges than you do and that's ok. This is her life, not yours Not an Ivy League Grad but still doing fine

My immediate response is ''Are you kidding?'' So she didn't do well on a PSAT? And does SHE want to go to an Ivy League school and WHY? Is this your dream or hers? And even if she wants it, if she doesn't go it isn't the end of the world. There are great schools out there. My 2 daughters are both doing fabulous things for this world--one went to an Ivy League and one didn't. One even got a ''D'' on her report card. I panicked also but she still went to UCSD--not a shabby place.

What message are you giving her? Not brilliant academically? Come on--you said she gets good grades at a good school. Get over it and support her in whatever she wants to do. And don't put your disappointment on her. She probably carries enough of her own. a mom

PSAT for Sophomores?

Sept 2004


I hear various recommendations for when to take the PSAT. I guess most kids take it as Juniors the first semester but some kids take it as sophomores. Can you take it twice? Any harm to taking it as a Sophomore? Any advantages? Thanks
Interested Parent

Sophomores can take the PSAT for practice, but in order for it to count for National Merit Scholarship, students have to be juniors. Jamie

It's really, really nice for college-bound kids to have a chance to ''practice'' taking the PSAT. You can take it multiple times, and when you take it during the fall of your 11th grade year, it's pretty high-stakes, as it's the qualifying exam to be in the running to be a National Merit Scholar. At my kids' school (Skyline in Oakland) they're encouraged to take it even as 9th graders. Having some practice can really cut down on the anxiety later on, and also give you a sense of whether a prep course is a good idea. Kathy


PSAT Scores compared to grades

My daughter recently took the PSAT as a sophomore and I was surprised at how low her scores were considering she is a straight A student at Berkeley High. Does anyone have experience with how these scores relate to SAT performance? She tends to have a more difficult time with standardized tests in general and I am wondering what assistance we could provide to help her develop better test-taking skills. I would appreciate recommendations to programs or individuals who address this area, especially someone who could determine the problem she is having.


I don't think there is a very linear relationship between grades and the PSAT scores. My son is a a sophomore also and he got a 99th percentile in Math on the test and was receiving a B in Honors Algebra. He does take tests well, however, and I believe that has more to do with the PSAT success. I think it was wise of your daughter to take the test in her sophomore year to give her the time to practice up for the PSAT and SAT in advance of the required year. She probably just needs more familiarity with the testing to reduce her stress level. Regarding preparing to improve testing scores, I read a review on the various SAT prep courses and the Princeton seemed to be the most effective. Hope this helps. Gary


When should review courses for PSAT be taken, optimally?

Thanks for the discussion concerning PSAT testing. My daughter is bright and tests very badly. She's in 9th grade. When should review courses for PSAT be taken, optimally?


As those knowledgeable about these kinds of standardized tests will tell you, the SAT and the PSAT really only measure one kind of intelligence: How good somebody is at taking these standardized tests. They aren't accurately indicative of performance in college. They don't measure the most important ingredients for success, e.g. motivation, creativity, social skills, emotional intelligence, etc. All that said, though, sadly in this culture you must perform well on these tests if you want to get into competitive colleges/universities.

There are various things you can do if you want to boost your scores. First of all, if you have the money, taking the (extremely expensive) Princeton Review or the (slightly less-expensive) Kaplan test preparation courses promises a hike in your numbers (literally: the Princeton Review guarantees a substantial raise in scores). These programs develop curriculum by intensively studying the PSAT/SAT and figuring out lots of little tricks to beat the test. And the tricks work. The Princeton course also includes tips on stuff like how to overcome test anxiety, what to eat before the test, etc. If your child is very self-motivated, he/she can also pick up a copy of various SAT prep. books from a book store, such as the Princeton Review or Kaplan series. (These aren't as good as taking the course, but then again, $10 is very different from $1,000.)

Lots of kids don't perform well on these kinds of tests because of acute anxiety--and of course they're anxious, quite a bit of their future is resting in their number 2 pencil on an early Saturday morning. As parents, make it clear to them that these tests measure nothing important, and never shame your kids of they don't perform well. Tell them that these tests aren't indicative of success in life. Make sure that they prepare, but don't get all stressed out, that only makes it more difficult.

Colleges are paying attention to SAT's less and less--hands down, the most important thing in terms of getting into prestige colleges/universities is demonstrating some kind of passion that sets you apart from the crowd. Just ask an admissions officer if you don't believe me, they'll tell you the same thing. There are tons of people with good SAT's--but not many great writers, or mathematicians, or scientists, or singers/songwriters, or actors, or musicians, or butterfly collectors, or kind people who go way out of their own way to help others...these are the kinds of things that colleges really look for. (Of course, you have to try to get decent grades, and do your best on the SAT's, but these aren't the most important.) So do your best on the SAT, take the courses if you can afford it or work through the books if you can't. Having been through it myself, and also on the sideline with many others, I know it's stressful in the moment, but if you do these, it'll all work out in the end.


I don't know how your daughter learns, but if she is fairly independent and can learn by reading, I would strongly recommend having her look at one of the test prep books. The ones I've used are from the Princeton Review, but there are tons of them out there to choose from. I don't think there are any for the PSAT, but then she shouldn't need to take that again. The books are usually around $30, I think, and I used them when I was in high school to prepare for the SATs and again in college for the GREs. What I really needed was assistance in math, and my scores improved by a couple hundred points from using the books. In high school I actually did slightly better on the math than the verbal, which was my strong suit. The SATs (and I think most of those ETS tests) are really just puzzles. The main test is often not of how much you know, but of how well you understand the tests. The Princeton Review books (I don't have expe! rience with others) are very good at unveiling the mysteries of how the tests are written and the tricks put in place by the test makers. It is obvious that your daughter is performing well in school; she probably knows the material but is thrown off by the tests. If she is the type of person who can learn on her own, definitely buy a book. I don't have experience with the test prep classes (Kaplan, etc.), so I can't say how they teach or what their success rate is. But if your daughter needs structure and personal instruction to learn, I would guess that those classes are probably your best bet. Heather