Life After the PSAT: Making the Most of Your PSAT Results
By Peter Van Buskirk on December 18, 2019
Winter is a time of important revelations for students in the college planning process. For many high school Juniors, the release of PSAT results will start to give more definition to potential college options. As momentous as the unveiling of your scores might seem, you need to keep it in perspective.
After months of preparation—pre-tests, test prep and practice tests—the PSAT you took in October is now a reality. It is important to remember, though, that the result you receive does not define your intelligence nor does it reveal your worth as an individual.
The last thing you want to do is jump to conclusions such as, “Wow! Look at that score! I’ll be able to get in wherever I want to go!” or “I might as well forget it. I’ll never get into a ‘good’ school.” If you like what you see, congratulations! You’re off to a good start. But, if your numbers don’t measure up to your expectations, relax—your life isn’t over.
The PSAT is NOT an Intelligence Test
It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the PSAT—and later, the SAT. Test results are intended to help admission officers predict the likelihood of your academic success as a first-year student in college. That’s it. They are not intelligence tests!
Moreover, colleges conduct validity studies every year that assess the predictive value of all types of academic credentials. The results show that, whereas the rigor and performance associated with academic work in the classroom are the best predictors, test results have, at best, a marginal impact. To the extent that test results do play a role in admission decision-making as competitive credentials, take heart in the fact that your results can improve over time with appropriate study and preparation.
Your PSAT Result is a Starting Point in College Planning
Whatever your PSAT results, your life is about to change. For years, the College Board (producers of the PSAT) has sold names and addresses of test-takers to colleges, scholarship programs and other parties associated with college access. Purchasers are able to target potential candidates for recruitment based on test results and other self-reported personal and academic data.
So, get ready! If you posted amazing scores, you are likely to attract a lot of unsolicited attention from colleges—including many you’ve never heard of—as well as considerable advice from anyone who has an opinion about the colleges that would be good for you! Even more modest results will attract the attention of many colleges that might see you as a good fit.
What you do with this collection of literature and emails is up to you. At the very least, it can’t hurt to read the information. If a college seems remotely interesting, respond to the request for more information. Otherwise, there is no reason to hang onto it.
Regardless, there is plenty of time to work on your credentials and begin defining a set of college options that make sense given your interests and abilities.
Whatever your feelings about your test results, don’t let them change you. Big scores are no more a guarantee of admission and scholarships than modest scores are a limitation of opportunity. Use what you learn from the results to plan effectively. Stay focused on your priorities. Do what you do as well as you can. And look for colleges that value you for what you have to offer.
A Few Words of Caution for Students with High PSAT Results
While some institutions will offer you the “sun and the moon” because your scores are very high, make sure those places are good fits for you. Will they be able to offer you the kind of learning environment, as well as the program of study, that is important to you? Don’t make any commitments, even emotionally, until you have visited their campuses.
In addition, understand that the more selective institutions will see hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates with scores just like yours—and will turn down many of them. A high score is not a guarantee of admission.
National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test
Your PSAT results might also qualify you for recognition as a National Merit Scholar, a credential that is attractive to most colleges. If that is the case, consult the National Merit Scholarship Corporation website or more information regarding requirements for participation in the competition.
How to Use the PSAT Results
While it is still too early to project admission outcomes, your PSAT results, scored on a scale of 320-1520, can help you generate a list of schools at which you should be able to compete for admission. To get started in that direction, add 50 points to your PSAT (combined) result to project the typical improvement shown over the course of 2-3 subsequent SAT test administrations.
With that information in hand, look at the range of SAT scores for enrolled students reported by the schools that interest you. Focus on the places where your projected result would put you in the top half of the scores reported. Do the same for your ACT results if you took that test. This approach to selecting schools isn’t full proof, but it will help you identify the right competitive “playing fields” for you given your credentials.
Where Does Test Prep Fit?
Effective engagement in test preparation can make a difference in your subsequent SAT/ACT results. As you consider test prep, though, keep in mind that success involves a serious commitment of time and effort. Simply buying the course won’t make the difference in your scores!
If you decide to invest in test prep, focus on the options that best suit your learning style and schedule. Possibilities include personal one-to-one tutoring, classroom instruction and online instruction. Plan your involvement in order to complete the course within two weeks of the targeted test date.
Be wary of guaranteed results. Quite often, the guarantee speaks to projected improvement from your last official test result to the practice test taken at the conclusion of the course—not your next official examination!
Additional Tips for Managing your Test Results
You Have Testing Options
In the coming months, try the SAT and the ACT to discover the style of test that fits you best. Then, focus on preparing for that test. Every college in the country uses ACT and SAT results interchangeably.
Limit Yourself to Three Sittings for the Test You Choose (ACT/SAT).
There is a point of diminishing return! Don’t become a slave to testing and test prep when your time can be better spent elsewhere.
Remember You Have “Score Choice” at Your Disposal.
This means you can choose the scores you would like to forward to colleges. When you take the SAT, you will be given the opportunity to designate up to four colleges to receive your results at no cost to you. Don’t list any schools unless you don’t care that they see all of your scores. Instead, wait until you have taken the SAT several times to determine which sets of scores you’d like to send.
"Test Option" Schools
Speaking of options, nearly 1,000 colleges and universities now welcome applications for admission without test results. Go to FairTest.org to see an alphabetized list of “test optional” schools.
If you are determined to improve your testing performance, don’t overlook the impact of exposure to language and ideas within the context books and articles. Hard as it might be to imagine, especially in the world of electronics in which we live, reading can be fun and very inexpensive!