PSAT Studying – is it Essential?

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Leana Pustam, Perspectives Editor

NMSQT. The National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Compared to the simple “PSAT,” that title seems to shake students a little harder.

As a junior, I am taking the PSAT on Wednesday. This PSAT is the “real” PSAT – the one that determines whether or not you’re going to be a National Merit Scholar.

A National Merit Scholar. Every straight-A, perfect-since-kindergarten student’s number two goal in life. Right next to getting accepted into Harvard University.

Students and teachers all over the country put such a high emphasis on the junior year PSAT. Parents put their students into SAT training boot camps months prior to the test. There is such a small percentage of students who actually become National Merit Scholars. This puts forth the question: is studying for the PSAT worth it?

There are numerous reasons as to why you should study for the PSAT. Of course, there is the chance that you could win the National Merit Scholarship. This is a huge deal; it makes you look good to colleges and aids many students in the financial necessities for secondary education.

Studying for the PSAT also helps for the SAT, which colleges focus on the most. It prepares students because studying earlier gives them a head start. By putting a lot of effort into the PSAT, it gives students an idea of what grade they are likely to earn on the SAT. Moreover, since this year’s SAT is a new version, early studying will allow students more time to get used to the new test and its scoring rubric.

On the other hand, there are downsides to putting a lot of effort into this PSAT.

Juniors are busy. I have an insane amount of homework every week, and to have another big thing to focus on during the week is too much – I just don’t have the time, and I’m sure many others feel the same way.

We’re already going to take the SAT a bunch of times down the road. Do you really need to focus on the PSAT? The test isn’t directly applicable to other classes. If I spend my whole night studying for the test and get a good score, I can still fail the Spanish test that I chose to de-prioritize.

There is a tiny percentage of students who actually become National Merit Scholarships, and these students are the geniuses. When the Semi-Finalists are announced each year, we aren’t very surprised. I, for example, am certainly not one of the smartest among my peers, and the chances that I will put in a great deal of effort just to lose to naturally smart people are very high.

Lastly, colleges don’t look at your PSAT scores.They will focus on your real SAT or ACT scores. So you can focus on the SAT and do poorly on the PSAT – colleges will not (really) care.

So, whether you decide to study or not is up to you. Intelligence level and previous scores play a major role in this decision. If a student believes that he or she can benefit by studying, by all means, do it. If you got one of the highest PSAT scores last year – study. But, it’s okay not to. If you’re more worried about your other classwork and got a low score from trying hard on the PSAT last year, it may be in your best interest to study for that Spanish test.