Every student deserves to have the best PSAT tips and strategies at the ready to help them step up to the batter’s box on testing day, prepared to smash each question out of the park!
As an underutilized, underestimated resource, the PSAT contains a lot of unknowns for students and their families - starting with the most basic fact that its name doesn’t stand for Practice SAT, as most people believe.
The PSAT stands for the Preliminary SAT.
That’s not to say that it isn’t great practice; it absolutely is.
But understanding that it’s the first important step in a string of related standardized exams and application to-dos in your college process checklist will help you know how to leverage it to your greatest advantage.
Everything you learn and work on now means less stress and effort later - because studying and preparing for the PSAT gets you ahead of the game on studying for the SAT and ACT.
Don’t squander the opportunity.
You could also win a one-time National Merit Scholarship Program monetary award. (But fair warning, only about .5% of students achieve this, so don’t over-focus on it. Better to hone in on the other opportunities the PSAT gives you; money’s a bonus!)
Use the tips below - organized into three sections - to put your best foot forward.
Before the test: Tips On How To Study For The PSAT
During the test: PSAT Testing Tips
After the test: Tips To Remember Post-PSAT
For a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts of the test, you might want to read this article on everything you need to know about the PSAT or watch the following webinar on PSAT Strategies For Success:
Now it’s time to reveal the best PSAT tips.
Tips On How To Study For The PSAT
Unlike the SAT and ACT, the PSAT is only offered once a year (in the middle of October). So if you’re a junior, remember: you’ve only got one official shot at it. If you’re a sophomore or freshman, you can take the PSAT as a practice while waiting for your turn, but your score for the National Merit Scholarship doesn’t count until your junior year.
Either way, know how to study for your one-shot that counts on the PSAT.
Take it seriously.
It doesn’t have the same pressure as the SAT or ACT because no college will see your PSAT scores. So use this as an opportunity to help yourself get better at taking standardized tests.
Be familiar with the structure of the test. The PSAT consists of four sections:
Writing and Language Test
Math Test - No Calculator
Math Test - Calculator
Be familiar with the questions on the test.
It’s more condensed than the SAT, but it’s still long and intense. You’ll have 139 questions and it will last 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Drill some PSAT practice questions to be ready.
Practice like it’s the real thing.
Use a full-length PSAT Practice Test to up your game. It’s the only way to get better.
Read boring material.
You’ll encounter a lot of dense literature on the test. Make sure your mind has practice focusing and analyzing things you don’t want to read - especially if you want to do better on the reading section.
Be familiar with common algebra, geometry, statistics, and precalculus principles.
Some math resources are provided in your test booklet, but they won’t do you any good if you don’t know what they mean and how to use them. Start with memorizing these so you don’t waste time flipping back and forth to them, then review what you’ve been learning in school.
Here’s what’s provided for you:
Download the free Insider’s Guide to the ACT & SAT for even more in-depth tips.
Pick up extra points (and avoid the pesky traps that the test-makers lay for unsuspecting students!) with this eBook’s useful advice and helpful test-taking strategies.
Get professional guidance if you want to achieve your best possible score.
Both this SAT Complete Package course and this ACT Complete Package course include a free PSAT Quick Prep course as a bonus. You’ll also get access to the very popular “Cash For College” course. With access to all of this for a full year, you can start with the PSAT prep then easily transition to either the ACT or SAT to get into your dream college and know the best ways to also pay for it.
PSAT Testing Tips
Know what to bring with you, including acceptable calculators, and pack your bag the night before. The only difference between this and the SAT is no admission ticket/ID is required since you’re testing at your high school (double-check requirements with the local school if you’re homeschooled.)
Between cramming or sleeping the night before, definitely choose sleep.
The best thing you can do is show up clear-headed and well-rested to do your best on the test.
Accuracy is always better than speed.
Every point counts. Don’t miss an easy or trick question by rushing.
Fill in all the bubbles.
No penalties for wrong answers. Answer as many questions correctly as you can, then guess at the end.
Write on your test.
This is a good way to clear your head if you get stuck or bored. Eliminate wrong answers or mark questions that you skipped to return to. Circle correct answers to double-check at the end.
Eat. Drink. Move.
Eat an energizing breakfast and bring a snack for the break. Drink water to stay hydrated, but not so much that you need to go to the restroom during the test. Move around to warm up your brain both before the test and during the break.
Tips To Remember Post-PSAT
Your scores will be available online in mid-December.
ACT vs SAT. Which test is a better fit for you?
Now that you have more information from surviving one standardized test, it’s time to decide which one to focus on next. You don’t need both.
- Watch this video that goes through the differences between the ACT vs. SAT to help you pick. You do need to take at least one of them and the sooner you decide, the better.
Even if you’ve got your eye on exclusively test-optional colleges, check out this article on why you still need to be able to submit test scores.
See your score as a reflection of where you are right now, not how smart or capable you are.
By looking at what questions you missed, you can easily determine what principles and which types of questions to focus on in your SAT or ACT studying to earn your highest possible score.
Remember, no college is going to see your PSAT score. So use it to learn from.
You don’t have to win a National Merit Scholarship to earn money from your PSAT score.
With any level of National Merit recognition (aka a good score compared to the rest of the students testing in your state) you can apply for tuition money from either specific colleges or private sponsors.
Additional PSAT Info
PSAT IN THE NEWS: For anyone who has heard the announcement that the SATs are moving to a digital format in the next few years, yes, this does apply to the PSATs too. HOWEVER, it’s not something to worry about yet.
The PSAT will be in its new digital format starting in the fall of 2023.
In the meantime, the tips above are the very best, most relevant strategies for tackling this test.
If you want more details, here is everything to know about the upcoming digital PSAT and SAT.
We will continue to make sure you are updated as soon as anything else is announced or any new practice resources are released.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Higher Scores Team.