Life after the PSAT®

The middle of December is a time of important revelations for many young people as they apply to college. If you are a high school junior, chances are you will learn your PSAT® result in the next few days. As momentous as this event (the unveiling of your scores) might seem, you need to keep it in perspective.

After months of preparation—pre-tests, test prep, and practice tests—the PSAT you took in October is real. It is important to remember, though, that the result you receive does not define your intelligence, nor does it reveal your worth as an individual. It can, however, serve as a starting point in giving definition to your opportunities as a college applicant. If you like what you see, congratulations! You’re off to a good start. But, if your numbers don’t measure up to your expectations, relax—your life isn’t over.

As a matter of fact, the last thing you want to do is jump to conclusions such as “Wow! Look at that score! I’ll be able to get in wherever I want to go!” or “I might as well forget it. I’ll never get into a ‘good’ school.” Remember: This is just a starting point for your college planning. If you posted amazing scores, it is true you are likely to attract a lot of unsolicited attention from colleges—and considerable advice from anyone who has an opinion about where you should be looking. If, on the other hand, your score disappoints you, don’t despair. There is plenty of time to work on your credentials and to define a set of quality options for yourself.

However you feel about your test results, don’t let them change you. Big scores are no more a guarantee of admission and scholarships than modest scores are a limitation of opportunity. Use what you learn from the results to plan effectively. Stay focused on your priorities. Do what you do as well as you can. And look for colleges that value you for what you do well.

Monthly Promotion

A few words of caution for students with high PSAT results: While some institutions will offer you the “sun and the moon” because your scores are very high and you might be qualified for selection as a National Merit Scholar, make sure those places are good fits for you. Will they be able to offer you the kind of learning environment, as well as the program of study, that is important to you? Don’t make any commitments, even emotionally, until you have visited their campuses.

In addition, understand that the more selective institutions will see hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates with scores just like yours—and turn down many of them. A high score is not a guarantee of admission.

How to Use the PSAT Results

Your results can help you generate a list of schools at which you should be able to compete for admission. To get started in that direction, add 60 points to your total score to project the typical improvement shown over the course of two to three additional SAT test administrations (without any prep).

With that information in hand, look at the range of SAT® scores for enrolled students reported by the schools that interest you. Focus on the places where your projected result would put you in the top half of the scores reported. Do the same for your ACT® results if you took that test. This approach to selecting schools isn’t foolproof, but it will help you identify the right competitive “playing fields” for you given your credentials.

Where Does Test Prep Fit?

Effective engagement in test preparation can make a difference in your subsequent SAT/ACT results. As you consider test prep, though, keep in mind that success involves a serious commitment of time and effort. Simply buying the course won’t make the difference.

If you decide to invest in test prep, focus on the options that best suit your learning style and schedule. Possibilities include personal one-to-one tutoring, classroom instruction, and self-guided instruction. Plan your involvement in order to complete the course within two weeks of the targeted test date.

Be wary of guaranteed results. Quite often, the guarantee speaks to projected improvement from your last official test result to the practice test taken at the conclusion of the course—not your next official examination!

Additional Tips for Managing Your Test Results

Now that you have “gotten your feet wet” with testing, keep the following in mind as you proceed with additional testing.

  • You have testing options. In the coming months, try the SAT® and the ACT® to discover the style of test that fits you best. Then, focus on preparing for that test. Every college in the country uses ACT and SAT results interchangeably.
  • Limit yourself to three sittings for the test you choose (ACT/SAT). There is a point of diminishing return! Don’t become a slave to testing and test prep when your time can be better spent elsewhere.
  • Remember you have “score choice” at your disposal. This means you can choose the scores you would like to forward to colleges. When you take the SAT, you will be given the opportunity to designate up to four colleges to receive your results. Don’t list any schools unless you don’t care that they see all of your scores. Instead, wait until you have taken the SAT several times to determine which sets of scores you’d like to send.
  • Speaking of options, more than 850 colleges and universities now welcome applications without test results. Visit www.FairTest.org to see the list of “test optional” schools.
  • Read a lot! If you are determined to improve your testing performance, don’t overlook the impact of exposure to language and ideas found contextually in books and articles. Hard as it might be to imagine in the world of electronics in which we live, reading can be fun and very inexpensive!
Written by Peter Van Buskirk, Director of Student Advocacy

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