Are you planning to take the PSAT in the fall of 2016? This guide will fill you in on the exact test dates, along with some essential tips for achieving a great PSAT score.
If you’re a rising junior or taking the PSAT as a younger student, read on to learn how the PSAT will be administered to students nationwide.
How Is the PSAT Administered?
You don’t get much choice when it comes to taking the PSAT. The test is administered across the country on a given date, and the majority of students take it on a weekday at their high school. While you can choose your test dates and testing centers when you sign up for the SAT, you don’t have this same flexibility or chance to register for the PSAT.
College Board designates three official testing dates in October or early November. The vast majority of schools use the primary test date, but there are two alternatives in case the main one doesn’t work. So what are the primary and alternative test dates for the PSAT in 2016?
What Are the PSAT Test Dates 2016?
Here are the 2016 PSAT test dates. Your school will just choose one.
- Primary PSAT test date: October 19, 2016 (a Wednesday)
- Alternate PSAT test date: November 2, 2016 (a Wednesday)
- Saturday PSAT test date: October 15, 2016 (a Saturday)
Your high school will register for one of the above test dates (in most cases, the primary test date) and let you know in advance. The alternate test dates, by the way, are only available to accommodate your high school’s schedule. Students can’t choose the alternate or Saturday test date, but instead must take the PSAT on the day that their school chooses.
With the PSAT only administered on one day, you might have a concern that comes to mind: what if you’re sick or absent that day?
If you're sick on the PSAT test date, don't worry! You will be able to schedule a makeup test.
What If You Miss the PSAT?
It is possible to make up the PSAT if you miss it. If you’re absent on test day, then you would need to contact the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) by March 1 via a written request.
According to NMSC’s website, “The student or a school official must write to NMSC as soon as possible after the PSAT/NMSQT administration to request information about procedures for entry to NMSC competitions by alternate testing. The earlier NMSC receives the written request, the greater the student’s opportunities for meeting alternate entry requirements. To be considered, a request must be postmarked no later than March 1 following the PSAT/NMSQT administration that was missed. NMSC will provide alternate entry materials including an entry form that requires the signature of a school official.”
While you can set up a makeup test if you miss the official PSAT date, should you? That all depends on how much you’d benefit from taking the official test and whether or not you’re aiming for National Merit. If you’re a junior who has been prepping for the test with the goal of achieving distinction or a scholarship, then you should certainly set up a makeup test. If you really want the official College Board testing experience before you sit for the SAT, furthermore, then you should also try to reschedule.
If you’re not aiming for National Merit, though, then you don’t necessarily have to make up the PSAT. You might just take a PSAT practice test on your own time under simulated testing conditions, score your test, and prepare for the SAT that way. If you miss the PSAT, then you should think about your academic goals and whether it makes sense for you to schedule another test.
Assuming you do make your official test date and take the test, when would you get your PSAT scores back?
Before you go on winter break, you get an early present: your PSAT score report!
When Do You Get 2016 PSAT Scores?
While 2015 test-takers had to wait until January for their PSAT, 2016 test-takers should get theirs back in mid-December. College Board hasn’t gotten any more specific about the PSAT score release date yet, but we’ll update as soon as we’ve got the info. At this point, we know that you should be able to access your PSAT scores online through your College Board account a little less than two months after taking the test.
Once you get your PSAT scores, how can you make the most of your score report? Read on to learn how your PSAT results can help you make steps toward the future.
What Should You Do With Your PSAT Scores?
Your PSAT score report is important for two main reasons. First, it gives you feedback about how much you need to prep for the SAT. Second, it tells you if you might qualify for National Merit distinction and scholarships. Let’s take a closer look at both of these important functions of your PSAT score report.
Your move (once you get your PSAT results).
#1: Use Your PSAT Score Report to Prep for the SAT
The PSAT and SAT are very similar tests. They share the same content and question types, and they test the same academic and time management skills.
How you do on the PSAT can help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker. After some self-reflection, you can use your performance to plan your best approach to prepping for the SAT.
Once you get your PSAT score report, take some time to figure out what it’s telling you. Look at your scores in each section, as well as the more specific subscores that give you insight into certain skill areas and question types. Figure out where you did well and where you could use some more practice.
As you study for the SAT, target your weak areas so you can improve for next time. You may need to learn new concepts, cut down on careless errors, speed up your efficiency, or work on all three of these areas. Your PSAT score report gives you valuable insight into what you can do to boost your scores when you eventually take the SAT.
Did you manage to reach the tasty carrot that is National Merit?
#2: Use Your Score Report to See If You Qualify for National Merit
When you’re a junior, you’ll take the PSAT/NMSQT, the latter part of which stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Students who score in the top 3 to 4% achieve the distinction of National Merit Commended Scholar, while students who score in the top 1% are named Semifinalists and may even move on to become Finalists and get scholarship money.
Achieving such a high score on the PSAT is no small feat, and if National Merit is in your sights, then you’ll probably spend a good amount of time studying and preparing to take the PSAT. Once you take the test and get your score report, you’ll be able to see whether your hard-earned efforts paid off.
Since the PSAT was redesigned in 2015, we don’t yet have the exact state-by-state cutoffs to determine National Merit Semifinalist. We do have our state-by-state estimates based on last year’s data, which you can check out in our National Merit Semifinalist guide.
If you’re taking the PSAT in 2016, then you’re in luck! NMSC should release the exact state cutoffs in September, so you’ll be able to go into the test with a clear sense of what you need to achieve (give or take a few points to account for year-to-year fluctuations) to qualify for National Merit distinction and a PSAT scholarship.
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Whether or not you’re aiming for National Merit, you’d benefit from preparing for the PSAT. You’ll brush up on core academic concepts, boost your scores, and get ready for the SAT. Read on for six key study tips to guide your preparation for the PSAT.
No time like the present to get started! According to this clock, the present time has something to do with Leo, Aries, and Aquarius.
Prepping for the PSAT: 6 Key Tips
The PSAT is a challenging test, and studying for it requires you to cover a lot of ground. To pace yourself, you should ideally start studying three to four months in advance of your test date. You might start even earlier, depending on where you start and what score you’re hoping to achieve. Some students take it even earlier than 11th grade for extra practice.
Whatever age you are, you’ll benefit from following these six study tips as you get ready for the PSAT.
#1: Learn All About the Test
Your very first step in prepping for the PSAT is simple: learn about the test. Learn how the exam is formatted, how many sections there are, and how much time you get in each. Once you have a sense of its general structure, look more closely at each individual section to see what concepts each includes (for example, algebra, yes; advanced calculus, no) and what types of questions it asks.
Here are just a few of the questions you should answer as you acquaint yourself with your new friend, the PSAT:
- How much time do you get per section?
- How many questions are in each section?
- What math concepts does it test?
- What’s the difference between the Math No Calculator and Math with Calculator sections?
- What grammar rules do you need to know for the Writing section?
- What are the different question types in the Reading section?
- How is the PSAT scored?
As you learn about the test, take notes on what concepts you feel confident with and which ones need more review. If something looks completely unfamiliar, definitely make a note of it. You might be able to ask a teacher or friend to go over the concept, get a tutor, or learn it on your own with PSAT prep materials.
Learning about the PSAT is a key first step as you prepare for test day. You can begin to figure out your strengths and weaknesses and design your own personal study plan.
Find a quiet place to take your practice test, free from distractions.
#2: Take and Analyze Practice Tests
Once you’ve developed a general understanding of the PSAT, you should take a practice test to diagnose your current scoring level. Use an official College Board practice test, sit in a quiet room with no distractions, and time yourself and take breaks just as you would during the real test.
When you finish, take the time to calculate your scores. These scores will give you concrete feedback on your performance in each of the four sections. This diagnostic practice test will give you clear insight into your current scoring level and where you need to improve to boost your scores.
#3: Target Your Weak Areas
Once you’ve taken and scored your PSAT practice test, you should comb through the questions and take notes on the ones that were easy, confusing, or difficult. Circle any questions that you made a mistake on or were unsure about, and then try to find the reason behind your uncertainty.
Did you not understand what a word problem was asking? Did you make a mistake with your calculations? Did you miss a grammar rule or not know how to solve a linear function? Did you go too fast and make a careless error or find yourself running out of time?
Once you root out the reasons behind your mistakes, you can figure out your weaknesses and target them as you study. Fill in any gaps in knowledge and improve your efficiency as a test-taker. Simply taking PSAT practice tests over and over again isn’t going to help you improve much if you don’t take a targeted approach to your studying.
Find strategies that help you work fast while still maintaining accuracy.
#4: Practice Time Management Strategies
Doing well on the PSAT isn’t just about possessing the requisite academic knowledge. It’s also about managing your time efficiently. Taking a timed test can be tough for a lot of people, but it’s a learned skill like any other. In other words, even if you start out feeling frazzled and rushing, you can learn to better manage your time as you practice.
There are several time management strategies you can try, and different approaches work for different students. Some people like to skim the reading comprehension questions before they read the passage, for instance, while others start with a quick read-through. As you prepare, try out various strategies, like process of elimination, and hone in on the tactics that best speed up your test-taking.
#5: Use High-Quality Practice Materials
The PSAT is an idiosyncratic test, unlike most other tests that you’ll take in high school. As you prepare, make sure that your practice materials accurately reflect what you’ll get on test day. Simply understanding how to solve linear function problems, for example, may not get you very far if you’re unfamiliar with what PSAT linear function problems look like.
College Board has released two official “new” PSAT tests. You can also use eight “old” official PSAT tests; just make sure to ignore the question types, like sentence completions, that are no longer relevant. You can also use books from test prep companies, like Barron’s. They have high quality, realistic material, though no models can be quite as accurate as what comes from the test makers themselves.
Finally, you might use new SAT practice materials to prep for the PSAT. The two tests are very similar, with the SAT featuring slightly more advanced material and a somewhat different scoring scale. College Board offers eight free official SAT practice tests, and Khan Academy has free online SAT practice.
Whatever you end up using to supplement the free College Board materials, make sure to be selective and choose books or online questions that will give you an accurate sense of the question types you’ll get on test day.
Embracing a growth mindset is like a mental magic trick that helps you improve.
#6: Embrace Your Growth Mindset
This last tip has to do with your psychology, and it’s something that’s useful for all areas of your life, not just prepping for the PSAT. Having a growth mindset means that you believe you can learn and improve. Even if you can't do something now, you believe that you'll be able to do it with enough practice.
It’s all too easy for people to give up on their academic goals with statements like, “I’m not a good test taker” or “I’m not a math person.” This line of thinking shows a fixed mindset. It suggests that you exist at one static, constant level and will always stay there. You know what you know, and there’s nothing you can do to add to it.
Of course, we’re all constantly changing and developing, so this fixed mindset is little more than a defeatist attitude. The PSAT is a tough test, but taking it is a skill like any other. Anyone can improve with practice and effort.
Coincidentally, you’ll probably improve even more if you believe you can improve than you would if you’re skeptical of the learning process. A growth mindset doesn’t just help you show up to your books and put in the effort; it also maximizes the effects of your efforts.
Even if you get discouraged along the way, remind yourself that you can always make progress over time. Where you are today is not where you’ll be tomorrow.
Remember these key takeaways as you start down the path of PSAT prep.
Taking the PSAT: Key Takeaways
Most juniors take the PSAT automatically, and younger students may also ask to take it for extra practice. Your high school will choose your PSAT date from three options given by College Board. In all likelihood, you’ll take the PSAT at your high school on a Wednesday in mid-October.
After you take the PSAT, you’ll have to wait until mid-December to see your scores. Your scores can give you valuable insight into how you can prepare for the SAT. If you’re a high scorer, then you’ll also find out whether you might have qualified for National Merit distinction.
To make the most of the testing experience and meet your goals, you should set aside some time in the weeks and months before to study. The PSAT is an odd test, and doing well on it requires that you first acquaint yourself with its idiosyncrasies. Not only will prepping for the PSAT help you realize your goals, but it will also aid you when you eventually take the SAT. All of this effort, after all, is ultimately going toward your plans to get into college.
Are you aiming to get a high PSAT score? This guide has all the study tips you need to know to achieve a perfect 1520.
Is your goal to earn National Merit scholarship money? Check out this article to learn about all the steps toward becoming a National Merit Finalist and winning scholarship money for college.
Besides National Merit, what's a good score on the PSAT? Check out this guide to learn about the PSAT score range, what makes for a good score on the PSAT, and how you can evaluate how strong your score is.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.