85 Percent

Why aren’t more juniors taking the PSAT?

Sylvia Bryan

On Wednesday morning, three classrooms worth of juniors will take the PSAT. The vast majority of the junior class will be spread out across seventeen classrooms, where they will take a practice version of the ACT.

This is a problem.

I’m guessing that more than 15 percent of the junior class is planning on attending college, so how come only 15 percent of us are taking the PSAT?

In the past week I’ve heard too many variations of, “I’m not taking the PSAT because I’m not taking the SAT, so what’s the point?”

Yes, PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT Test, but that’s not its main function. Every piece of literature related to the test says “PSAT/NMSQT,” because a person’s PSAT score determines their eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship, which is extremely important. Being a National Merit Scholar is one of the easiest ways to save money on college tuition. Of course, a very small percentage of people who take the test actually attain that status. But a higher number will be semifinalists, which is still an appealing thing to put on your college application.

It seems like a lot of people think taking the PSAT is equivalent to taking a practice ACT. I’ve taken both, as well as the real SAT, so I think I’m qualified to say that it really isn’t the same.

Practice versions of the ACT follow the same format and scoring algorithm as the real ACT. The PSAT and SAT don’t have the same sections as one another, use completely different scoring systems, and the SAT has a mandatory essay section that the PSAT lacks. Both tests are designed by the CollegeBoard, so I’m sure the PSAT is good practice for the SAT. But taking it isn’t a trial run for the real thing.

I can see why people chose to take the practice ACT instead of the PSAT. Most West graduates will stay in-state for college, and our local schools prefer the ACT to the SAT. So if you don’t know about the NMSQT part of the PSAT, the choice seems obvious. And I can see why people want a chance to learn the format of the ACT. But you can buy an ACT prep book and take a practice test literally any day of your high school career. There’s only one day where you can take the PSAT and have it count.

Strangely, this year’s entire sophomore class will take the PSAT on Wednesday. They don’t even have to pay the registration fee. If you wanted to take the PSAT as a sophomore last year, you had to get up early on a Saturday and go to Broadmoor to do it, on the same day as homecoming no less.  Hopefully this will encourage more of them to take it again next year, but I’m slightly bitter.

If you’re a current junior and you aren’t registered for the PSAT, unfortunately it’s too late. But if you’re an underclassmen planning on going to college, do yourself a favor and take it your junior year.

I don’t want to blame our counselors for the low turnout, but I think they could have done a better job emphasizing the National Merit Scholarship aspect of the test. My English class had two presentations from the counseling department about the testing day, and both days it was barely mentioned. Instead, we learned about the differences between the ACT and SAT. I don’t think that should have been a part of the conversation. Instead, anyone who plans on going to college should have been encouraged to take the PSAT. I realize that not very many people would end up with scholarship money, but it’s too good of an opportunity for so many people to let it go to waste.