Coming from LEAP, where we pride ourselves on increased ACT and SAT scores of students in our program, it may sound counter-intuitive that we advise most rising juniors not to prep for the PSAT. (This is not the advice we give for ACT and SAT prep!) See, most families who are questioning whether or not to prep for the PSAT are doing so with the National Merit Scholarship program in mind. The bar is high to qualify as a finalist, as we talked about in an earlier post on PSAT and National Merit basics. Essentially, finalists are the top 15,000 scorers from a pool of 1.5 million test-takers.
The odds of qualifying as a semi-finalist, an essential step in becoming a finalist, are tough. Because we value students’ time and families’ money, we think there are essential questions to ask before deciding if PSAT test prep is for you.
However, for students who do qualify, it is not only an honor but depending on college choice you may be heading to college FOR FREE!
1. What is the 3-year history of semi-finalist “Selection Index” qualifying scores for your state? Take Ohio. A five-year history shows the score range of 215 to 219 with the highest score being the two most recent years. These numbers vary by state.
2. What was my sophomore PSAT “Selection Index” score?
3. For any prep program, what is their history of improving student scores for Nation Merit Semifinalist? At LEAP, we can with confidence say students at 195+ Selection Index have a shot at making the magic range of numbers for Ohio. Essentially, we turn down students for prep who have a score below 195. We don’t have a proven track record of getting such students to qualifying scores.
4. What is my availability to prep for the October PSAT? Many of the students who have a shot at qualifying are taking very rigorous junior year courses. This means it is better to devote preparation time to the summer months. Will you be available this summer to devote substantial time to prep and practice? Do you have time in early October to do a brief refresher on all that was gained over the summer? If fall prep is the better option, do you have time for 1:1 tutoring? Don’t jump into it unless you have the time and interest to devote.
5. How will I feel if I don’t qualify? The problem with testing, unlike GPA, is it’s a one-day snapshot of who you are as a test taker. The best-prepared student could have an off day. But you may just hit pay-dirt. If you don’t hit the magic number (which you won’t know until September of your senior year), will you feel the time invested was a waste or will you know you did your best and in the end, it also helped prep you for the ACT-SAT?
In the end, make an educated decision on PSAT prep. Sophomores, don’t prep as we want a baseline score to determine if you should prep before your junior PSAT. Think you have what it takes? Contact LEAP to get a free individualized testing plan with no obligation to partake in the program.