Test your core skills with PSAT

August 18, 2014 11:46 am | Updated 11:50 am IST

Lisa Jain

Lisa Jain

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is an exam that assesses problem-solving skills and subject matter learned in high school in three areas: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. Conducted by the College Board, which administers the SAT, this exam comes in useful for students who prepare for SAT and other similar multiple-choice standardised tests for admission to foreign or Indian universities. Lisa Jain, India Representative, College Board, speaks to SHUBASHREE DESIKAN.

Do schools conduct the PSAT exam in their premises? How does one apply to write the PSAT and SAT? How much would it cost a student?

The PSAT/NMSQT is a college readiness test administered by high schools worldwide. Students should contact their college guidance counsellor, administrator or principal’s office to check if their school is administering the PSAT, and register with the person concerned. PSAT is administered in October, and schools are required to place their exam orders with the College Board by mid-September. The school pays the College Board $17 per student for the PSAT, which includes shipping costs of the test booklets to and from the U.S. Typically, schools add a small administrative fee when charging students, to cover any costs they incur internally to administer the test.

If a student is interested in taking the PSAT, and their school isn’t administering the test, the student has the option of taking the test at USIEF (United States – India Education Foundation) centres in select cities across the country. For more information on how to register, students should contact USIEF or visit their website: >www.usief.org.in.

For the SAT, unlike the PSAT, students can register online, directly, through the College Board website, at www.sat.collegeboard.org/register. Test dates have been released for the next six administrations, from October 2014 to June 2015. Once they’ve decided when they want to take the SAT or Subject Tests, I encourage students to register early, to ensure they get a seat at their centre of choice. The SAT costs $94.50 in India, whereas the Subject Tests cost $84.

You have advised that Indian students take the PSAT as early as Grade 9. How would it help to start so early ?

The PSAT is an important step in a student’s path to university success. It assesses problem solving skills and subject matter learned in high school in three areas: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. The PSAT helps students get familiar with the concept of standardised testing and offers excellent practice at an early stage, quite unlike the exams they typically experience in school.

The biggest benefit of taking the PSAT early, in Grade 9 or 10, is that the PSAT Score Report provides very detailed and meaningful feedback about a student’s strengths and weaknesses in the skills tested on the PSAT. Students can not only see how they performed compared to other students who took the test, but also assess their performance on each question based on difficulty level (easy, medium, or hard). Moreover, every question is categorised into different skills; so students, teachers and counsellors can understand where the student needs to focus attention in class, and while preparing for the SAT.</p><p>With the PSAT, each student also gets free access to a comprehensive online college planning tool called My College QuickStart, which allows students to create a SAT Study Plan based on their PSAT performance, understand their personality and match college majors to it, identify best-fit colleges, and more. Having access to such powerful tools at an early stage can help students plan for college more systematically.

What if a student appears for PSAT but does not take the SAT? Will the PSAT scores be useful in applying to the college later?

One of the key advantages of PSAT is that the scores are not shared with universities. Hence, it’s a no-stress exam, and we don’t recommend extra preparation for the PSAT.</p><p>Students should be encouraged to take the test so that they gain a good understanding of their skill levels, and identify areas they need to work on. Since the scores are not shared with universities, the students can be stress-free during the test and get a sense of their natural abilities.

Given the nature of the PSAT and topics covered in the test, it is obviously very helpful for those who plan to take the SAT, but it can also be extremely useful even for those students who don’t want to take the SAT, but are focusing on preparing for other similar multiple-choice standardised tests for admission to foreign or Indian universities.

Students who apply to Indian colleges typically have to take a different entrance exam for each university. Students could take up to 10 of these tests, if not more, and the process can be daunting and tiring. The PSAT helps students get familiar with the concept of standardised testing and offers excellent practice for the same.

Can a student improve his or her SAT/PSAT scores by appearing more than once?

The PSAT is held only once a year, in October. Many students take the PSAT in Grade 9, and then again in Grade 10, to measure improvement in skills. Several students also take the PSAT in Grade 11, if they aren’t already planning to take the SAT at the same time.

For the SAT — at least half of all students take the SAT twice — in Grade 11 and/or in Grade 12. Most students do see an improvement in scores the second time they take the test. However, it is not advisable to take the test too many times. Students should focus on preparing well and aiming for their first attempt to be the final one. If for some reason, after two attempts, they still need to take the test again, they should carefully assess where they need to improve their score, and work on those topics. Some colleges and universities might ask to see all your SAT scores; so taking the test multiple times might not be a healthy signal. Students should instead concentrate on other important aspects of their application as well.

Some tips to help students study for PSAT and SAT.

The PSAT tests skills that students are already learning in high school. Hence school course work is sufficient preparation. Since the scores do not directly impact admission to universities, students should not feel compelled to take additional classes or ‘coaching’ to prepare for the PSAT. The College Board provides some sample questions for PSAT on its website at www.collegeboard.org/psat under the ‘Preparing’ section.

For SAT, we provide some excellent resources for preparation. On www.sat.collegeboard.org/practice students find several free resources such as ‘Question of the Day’, sample practice questions, and links to free tutorials through our partners at Khan Academy. Students can also purchase the Official SAT Study Guide or The Official SAT Online Course on the website. Apart from these, several books are available in the market that guides students through SAT preparation. Students should spend sufficient time mastering each topic and practising full-length tests. Their endeavour should be to identify the areas where they aren’t performing well, and improve performance on these sections in order to improve their total score.

The PSAT helps students get familiar with the concept of standardised testing and offers excellent practice for the same.

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