It's never too early to start planning!
When should you start preparing to apply to college? When you sign up for the SAT? The day you choose your freshman year classes? From the time you learn to read your first picture book?
This might be a matter of debate between you and your parents, but we can all agree that planning starts long before you actually start filling out applications. So to put yourself on the track for college success, should you start freshman year off by taking the PSAT?
First, what exactly is the PSAT for? Understanding this will let us see whether it suits your needs as a freshman.
The PSAT Is For...
National Merit Distinctions and Scholarships
The PSAT is administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or the NMSC. Based on your scores, the NMSC may award you distinctions like Commended Scholar, Semifinalist, or Finalist. Students in the top 1% might even win scholarships.
Only high school juniors are eligible for NMSC awards. So your freshman year score, even if it's perfect, unfortunately can't count for National Merit.
However, prepping and getting a practice run or two in before junior year can only improve your score, especially if you're aiming to make it into the top 1%. I strongly recommend taking the PSAT in at least sophomore year to get in your trial run.
As for freshman year? It can definitely be helpful, but it's also pretty early. You might be served just as well by focusing on your schoolwork, developing your academic skills, and doing test prep on your own for the next year. If you want to take the PSAT in 9th grade, then any real test experience can be valuable and help you score higher the next time.
Besides NMSC awards, the PSAT is helpful for another important test...
Good Practice for the SAT
The "P" in PSAT actually stands for "preliminary," not "practice," but this common misconception isn't too far from the truth. The new PSAT starting in 2015 is closely aligned to the content and types of questions you'll see on the new SAT.
Both test your understanding of math, Critical Reading, and writing (though the PSAT does not have an essay component). Both tests focus on determining meaning in context, whether it's analyzing a passage or interpreting data from a graph. Prepping for and taking the PSAT will help you develop the valuable skills you need to score highly on the SAT.
It also helps you pace yourself under strict time limits and apply guessing strategies, like process of elimination. Both the new PSAT and new SAT feature multiple choice questions with 4 answer choices instead of the current 5, and neither has penalties for wrong answers.
In addition to testing similar skills as the SAT, the PSAT helps you predict how you'll score on the SAT. The new PSAT is scored on a scale between 320 and 1520, with a range of 160 to 760 for Math and the same for Reading and Writing. The new SAT will be scored out of 1600, with a range of 200 to 800 for Math and the same for Reading and Writing.
These scales are very similar, with the PSAT scores shifted down to account for the fact that it's a somewhat easier test than the SAT. How you do on the PSAT helps predict how you'll do on the SAT, with the knowledge that the SAT is somewhat more challenging.
Not only can you use your PSAT score as a predictor of how you are likely to score on the SAT, you can also use it to set goals and up your target scores. Because of this, it can only help you to begin to get familiar with the PSAT freshman year, as scoring well on these tests is all about practice and preparation. But again, it's up to you whether taking the official PSAT or simply practicing on your own, like with PSAT practice test pdfs, is most beneficial freshman year.
Finally, the PSAT can put you in touch with colleges...
To Connect With Colleges
To state the obvious, the PSAT and SAT are tests that prepare you for applying to and succeeding in college. The PSAT can be helpful for providing your contact information to colleges (with your permission) so they can get in touch with you and share information about their campus events, deadlines, and scholarships.
If you want to put yourself on colleges' radar early, then taking the PSAT may be one way to do this. Another way would be indicating interest through their individual websites.
Now that you understand the various uses and applications of the PSAT, what's the final verdict: should you take the PSAT as a freshman?
Should You Take the PSAT In 9th Grade?
Freshman year is early to worry too much about the PSAT, but if you have the means and motivation, every real test is valuable experience. You'll get a sense of real testing conditions, along with an official score report that can help you set goals and design your study plan for next time.
If you decide to take the PSAT in 9th grade, you'll want to talk to your school counselor about it. Juniors are usually automatically signed up for it through the school, but freshmen usually need to ask to register specifically.
If you decide to skip the test for now, you'll be served well by taking practice tests and self-studying. That way, you can prep to take the PSAT as a sophomore and then be in great shape junior year, when it counts for National Merit.
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While you may or may not take the PSAT freshman year, you might want to consider taking an SAT Subject Test at the end of freshman year. The Subject Tests measure your mastery in a subject like Biology or Math. Depending on what courses you've taken, you may be prepared and have the content fresh in your mind as ninth grade draws to a close. Check out other considerations and SAT Subject Test dates here.
Besides the PSAT, are there any other things you should focus on freshman year?
Freshman Year Focus: The Essentials
Colleges look at all four years of high school, whether it's the courses you select, your academic performance, your extracurricular and community involvement, or your summer activities. Colleges also love to see your involvement in a particular area deepen and develop into an area of expertise or leadership position. Admissions officers understand exploration freshman year, but they generally like to see commitment over the long run.
To that end, it's a good idea to try out clubs and activities in freshman year and find ones in which you can not only make progress, but that might also put you in a position for leadership or an internship later on in high school.
It's also a smart move to challenge yourself in college prep and honors classes. Make sure you'll be taking Algebra and Geometry by the time you take the SAT. If you're interested in the ACT or the Math 2 Subject Test, then you also will need to have some understanding of precalculus and trigonometry.
If you're reading about taking the PSAT as a freshman, then you're probably well aware of the power of prep when it comes to the PSAT and SAT. You're giving yourself a good amount of time to get ready through studying, as well as developing critical reading, writing, and math skills in and out of the classroom. Some students even sit for the official SAT as freshmen as part of their study plan, to gauge their level and achieve a good 9th grade SAT score.
By staying active and aware, you're already preparing to apply to college. Or maybe you've been preparing since you learned to read your first picture book!
How exactly is the PSAT scored? Check out this guide on what your PSAT score means, and the 3 steps you should take after the PSAT.
Early studying is smart studying for the SAT. Learn why and how to start prepping well in advance of SAT test day.
Are you taking the SAT as a sophomore? If you're scoring these scores, then you're in a good position for next year. Read about good 10th grade SAT scores and how to improve them even more.
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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.