PSAT prep: 7 things to expect

By Madison Hallett

Junior year of high school is when most students start thinking about scholarships and universities. But before applying to schools, you're required to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, or PSAT. The PSAT is important because it prepares you for the SAT, which helps colleges evaluate your academic performance. The PSAT is divided into three sections: reading, writing, and math. Each section contains multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blank statements, and written responses. Doing well on the PSAT can help qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship Program and get you money for college.

There are tons of study guides and classes to prepare for the PSAT. But while knowing the subjects is important, it's also necessary to mentally prepare yourself for the process. Follow these tips to keep your cool and know what to expect.

 1. The silence

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When you’re under pressure, silence can be more stressful than the loudest noises. Try to focus on taking the test and ignore your surroundings. Find your happy place, but keep your focus on the test, because there is a time limit.

2. Ridiculous questions

Yes, the rumors are true. Standardized tests love to invent questions with unrealistic scenarios. When asked "how many sides does a circle have?" or "if Jimmy buys 60 watermelons," don’t get flustered or lose time wondering why Jimmy needs so many watermelons. These questions are made to confuse you, challenging your ability to extract the relevant details. Don’t dwell on the lack of logic, focus on the facts.

3. No essay!

The PSAT consists of multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, written responses, equations, and critical readings. No essay. But don’t celebrate too soon because there is an essay on the SAT.

4. The heavy breather

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Now that you've conquered the silence, it's time to face the heavy breather. There's always that one kid who breathes like he just ran a marathon. They’re unavoidable and will get on your nerves. Like the silence, don’t let this overwhelm you or distract you from your test.

5. The proctors

The PSAT proctors are a lot scarier than they seem. The policies they read before each section are mandatory. They'll help to prepare you for the actual SAT, which is taken very seriously because it plays a large part in the college acceptance process. You'll find that the proctors repeat themselves before every section. Instead of groaning through their instructions, use this time to relax and take a deep breath before starting the next section.

And be nice to the proctors! They don’t want to be at school on a Saturday, either.

6. Skipping questions

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Don’t get down on yourself for not knowing the answer. There's nothing wrong with skipping a question. If you don't understand a question, try to guess logically from the given information. If you just can’t figure it out, it’s OK to skip it. It won’t count against your points. Just remember, you can’t go back to previous sections and fill in a skipped question.

7. Feeling rushed

The PSAT isn't only a test of academic knowledge, but also a race against the clock. Don't let the ticking clock distract you. Keep your focus and work on the questions. More than likely you'll be waiting for what seems like forever at the end of each section, so keep cool and don’t feel rushed.

Good luck on your PSAT! We hope these tips make the test a little more manageable. Now’s the perfect time to start looking for scholarships. The sooner you start, the better your chances. Find scholarships that are just right for you with our Scholarship Match.

About the author

Madison (Mattie) is a sophomore at Colby-Sawyer College, majoring in creative writing and minoring in art history. Very involved in theater and music, her love for piano is almost as strong as her Vermont pride.