First, the PSAT is good practice for the SAT. But, since no one really likes taking the SAT no one’s going to like taking a practice test. So this isn’t always terribly compelling. 

Second, the PSAT can help you get scholarships. If you do well enough on the PSAT you can get money for college. 

Third, schools use PSAT scores to help determine which students receive their mailings and which high schools get visits in the fall.

When you perform well on the PSAT quietly, very quietly, things start being set in motion. So, you want scholarships? Money for college? Invitations to visit campuses during the summer and fall? Lots of flattering mail? Take that test.

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It seems to me there are two types of students: those who freak out about the SAT and those who don’t. In other words, some students take it numerous times, know exactly the score they want, know their friends scores, take prep courses and buy all test prep books. Other students know it’s required, don’t see the big deal, wish they didn’t have to take it, get bored mid-test and run the risk of filling in bubbles according to patterns rather than according to potential right answers. 

What these two types of students have in common is that they both hate this test. No matter how you approach standardized tests, they are an important part of the application. 

[side note – some students take the ACT instead of the SAT. Find out from the schools you’re applying to which they require. Many schools will accept either/both.] 

Not all schools require these standardized tests. Increasingly, more and more schools are reevaluating the role that the SAT or ACT plays in their decision making. Your guidance counselor should be able to share with you schools that don’t require that you take the SAT. 

Those colleges that do require the SAT may rely on it heavily. One of the most common questions that admissions officers receive is, “how much weight does standardized testing receive in the admissions process?” This question is almost impossible to answer because a) you can’t quantify any one element in an application and b) you can not answer that question out of context.  For example, one student may have a 2300 but have mediocre recommendations, decent grades, no meaningful activities and an interview that reflected little engagement, interest, or spark. Another student may have much lower test scores, but have outstanding accomplishments in other areas. The only way to evaluate these two students is within the context of the broader applicant pool.

Can the SAT be a piece that tips the scales and gets a student in? Sure. Can a particularly outstanding recommendation combined with summer research (for example) tip that same proverbial scale? Absolutely. Do admissions officers keep track of exactly what element of an application was what did it? No. That’s not how it works. Asking how much SATs count will usually get you some form of the same answer. Yes it matters. Yes, it can matter a lot. And, well… yes, it can sometimes matter not so much.

It’s part of an application package that includes many elements.  Your job is to make sure that each element is as high quality as you can make it.  Once you do that, you start crossing your fingers. 

One of the best ways to study is to take practice tests. Whatever you do, don’t want into test day cold. Know what’s coming. Know how it’s graded. Know when to guess. Know how to pace yourself. SAT is game day – a really boring game day, but game day nonetheless.