How To Prepare For the PSAT

How To Prepare For the PSAT

Many students and parents ask us if we offer a PSAT course at 2400 Expert. The answer is no. There is simply no reason to prep separately for the PSAT. The PSAT is essentially a dumbed-down version of the SAT. It is about half the length of the SAT, the math is not as difficult, and there is no essay section. However, the rest of the PSAT is pretty much identical to the SAT. So if you study for the SAT, then you are “overstudying” for the PSAT.

If October of your junior year has not passed yet, you can kill two birds with one stone by preparing for the SAT now. Your plan should be to take the SAT in the first week of October during your junior year and the PSAT in the second week. You can knock out both the SAT and the PSAT in a two-week span by following this plan.

You might be thinking…“I already took the PSAT my sophomore year?” However, when you take the PSAT during your sophomore year of high school, it is only practice. The PSAT only “counts” toward National Merit when you take it as a junior in high school.

What is National Merit? Becoming a National Merit Finalist is a major award that looks great on your college applications. The only way to qualify to become a National Merit Finalist is to score high on the PSAT during October of your junior year of high school.

The score you need on your PSAT in order to qualify for National Merit depends on the state you live in. This is because the National Merit cutoff is based on how well other students in your state score on the PSAT. This means that the National Merit cutoff is higher in states that are academically more competitive (i.e. Massachusetts, New Jersey, etc.) and lower in states that are less academically less competitive (i.e. Nevada, Mississippi, etc.).

To get a rough idea of what you will likely need to score on the PSAT in order to qualify for National Merit, you can do an internet search of National Merit qualifying scores in your state from previous years. Typically, the National Merit qualifying score doesn’t change more than a couple points from year to year. However, note that the PSAT scoring scale recently changed from 240 total points to 1520 total points.

In addition to being a great accomplishment to include on your college application, National Merit can also have significant scholarship benefits. After you qualify to become a National Merit Semifinalist based on your PSAT score, you will be asked to write an application to become a National Merit Finalist. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation will then award about 50% of National Merit Semifinalists a $2500 scholarship! While this is great, there is an even bigger opportunity.

Many universities will actually automatically award you with a half-tuition or full-tuition scholarship just because you are a National Merit Semifinalist. This is often because universities are seeking to attract academically talented students. For example, if you are a National Merit Finalist who applies to my alma mater – the University of Southern California – you will be given an automatic half-tuition scholarship. Tuition is almost $50,000 per year at USC. Therefore, you are given $25,000 for 4 years – or $100,000 – just because you are a National Merit Semifinalist. $100,000 just for scoring high on a 2-hour 45-minute exam…not bad right? There are literally dozens of universities that offer National Merit Finalists big scholarship money.

If October of your junior year has already passed and you did not qualify to be a National Merit Semifinalist, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. A high SAT score can still earn you tens of thousands of scholarships during your senior year of high school.

In summation, don’t study specifically for the PSAT – study for the SAT. Our Expert Strategies will “overprepare” you for the PSAT.

Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.