High School 2 College

December 9, 2019

I Got My PSAT Scores – Now What?

The PSAT scores should be available in the next few days.  (Log on to the College Board website to see if yours are back yet.)  You probably have a feeling you should be doing something with those scores, but what?

First of all, if you did poorly, congratulations, and if you did well, that could be a problem.

Let me explain.

First of all, there’s no such thing as failing.  As long as you bubbled in your name on the scan-tron sheet, you passed.  You’ll notice there’s a score for the language sections (the reading and the grammar), and a separate score for the math sections (both with and without a calculator).  The maximum score on each section is 760 for a maximum total of 1520, unlike the SATs themselves, which have a maximum score of 800 per section for a maximum total of 1600.  I think the College Board thinks it’s being helpful by changing the scale, but everyone I know finds it confusing.  The College Board believes if you get a 760 on the math on the PSAT, by the time you take the SAT in a few months, you’ll be a bit smarter and probably get an 800.

The problem is that’s just not true.

So if you’re disappointed with your score, the good news is that no one but you, your guidance counselor, and your parents get to see that score.  It can’t negatively impact your college application process.  You can see every question, what you answered, and what the correct answer should have been online.  You can review the math you used to know.  You can pick up a few grammar tips.  Or you can sign up for an SAT prep class or contact a tutor who will use those PSAT scores to hone in on your particular strengths or those areas that need a boost.  You should have all the time you need to make a plan of action so your SAT scores can make you proud.

On the other hand, if you’ve done well, there’s a strong urge to pat yourself on the back and wait till the actual test.  Unfortunately, many – perhaps most – of the kids I know who did well on their PSATs actually do worse on the SATs, sometimes significantly worse.  Because those students were so satisfied with their PSAT scores, they didn’t spend any time trying to learn from their mistakes.  I can’t tell you how many calls I get after the March or May SATs from parents who said, “My kid did so well on the PSATs that he just went in and took the SATs.  His SAT scores are dreadful, and now we’re months behind and we have to cram in some studying.”

Here’s why some kids do so well on the PSATs but not on the SATs.  The easiest questions on the PSAT aren’t easier than the easiest questions on the SAT, and the hardest questions on the SAT aren’t harder than the hardest questions on the PSAT.  The mix is different.  On the PSATs, there may be mostly easy questions with a few medium difficulty questions and just a couple of hard questions.  On the SAT, though, there may just be a couple of easy questions, several medium difficulty questions, and quite a few hard questions.  So it’s true that the PSAT questions are like the SAT questions, but it’s not necessarily true that a good PSAT score forecasts a good SAT score.

There always will be something that’s more pressing academically.  You’ll always have a test coming up or a project due.  It’s easy feel like you did good enough on your PSATs that you’ll just take the SATs and see how it goes.

That’s a mistake.  (Read my essay about why you shouldn’t go into the SAT without preparation.)

The best plan of action is to schedule time for SAT (or ACT) practice, just as you would schedule practice for an instrument or a sport.  No one makes the All-State orchestra without practice.  No one makes the varsity team without practice.  And it’s very uncommon to get a good SAT or ACT score without practice.

What’s a good score, you ask?  A good score is one that makes you a more attractive college applicant.  Is your score good enough for Harvard?  Perhaps not.  Is your score good enough for your local community college?  Undoubtedly.  Your score should be at least as good as the median score for the colleges that otherwise seem a really good fit for you.

A good tutor can help with college selection as well as helping you decide which college admission test to take, and then help you prepare for that test.  Where do you find a good tutor?  I’m always around, or ask your guidance counselor.  He or she knows which tutors yield a successful experience.

Now go and practice!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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