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Articles / Preparing for College / Preparing for The PSAT

Preparing for The PSAT

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Sept. 2, 2016

If you're a high school junior (and maybe even a sophomore), you no doubt know about the PSAT. If you've never heard of the PSAT, here's the scoop:

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States. Approximately 3.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT each year ...

As with most topics pertaining to college admissions, the PSAT is a red-hot topic on the College Confidential discussion forum. Just search for "PSAT" or "NMSQT" and you'll see what I mean.

The reason for such high level of interest is the potential scholarship money awarded to high performers on the PSAT. That's the NMSQT aspect of the test's official name and that's why all the parental and student interest on the CC forum. It has become one of the more obsessive discussions on CC.

I have personal experience with NMSQT awards within my own family. Our son was a National Merit Finalist and received an ongoing award from a large national corporate foundation, which was a nice boost to covering his college expenses. Thus, that's the reason for students and parents to be eager for a good score on the PSAT, which is administered in the fall (usually October) for juniors and sometimes sophomores.

Preparing for the PSAT is pretty much the same as preparing for the SAT. There are books and courses galore that can help. I mention PSAT prep because I received some interesting information the other day about a free prep resource that may be of interest. It comes from Kaplan Test Prep.

First of all a disclaimer: I have absolutely no connection whatever with Kaplan Test Prep. Over the years, I have mentioned them here simply because of the news value of what they have offered. Thus, I'm just passing along this information since it may be of importance to you. It's that simple.

The headline of their announcement reads:

Kaplan Test Prep Launches First Free, Live PSAT Prep, Giving Unprecedented Access to Best-In-Class Instruction for All Aspiring College Applicants

Here are the details:

For many high school students, the PSAT/NMSQT® is more than practice for the SAT® or ACT® — it's the first meaningful step on their path to college, as a high PSAT score can attract notice from colleges and open the door to scholarship opportunities. In an unprecedented move to help students achieve their best PSAT scores, Kaplan Test Prep is launching the first ever free, live PSAT preparation program beginning October 1, with lessons that cover every section of the exam. Free for all students, Kaplan's PSAT Prep Live will give the 3.8 million students who take the PSAT annually groundbreaking access to live interactive instruction online, taught by master teachers who can answer their questions in real time.

“The PSAT is the kickoff to the college admissions process, and a great score can get students on the college radar for recruitment and scholarship money," said Lee Weiss, vice president of college admissions programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “With $180 million in National Merit scholarships awarded to top-scoring PSAT takers, we want to help students achieve their best possible PSAT scores, which is why we decided to make our best teachers available for free. We're excited to provide all students with engaging, motivating content delivered live from dynamic, expert teachers, which will give them the ability to ask and have their questions answered in real time — within a community of other motivated PSAT preppers."

The eight, one-hour live lessons will begin livestreaming on Saturday, October 1, 4:00-5:00 pm ET and run through Monday, October 17, and include four Math Test lessons and four lessons dedicated to the Reading Test and Writing and Language Test. Among the eight lessons are two Advanced lessons (one Math, one Verbal) geared towards students who are competing for National Merit® scholarships. Each lesson will run live twice, with recordings available for students who were unable to attend or for students needing a refresher.

For more information, go to www.kaptest.com/psatlive.


For more information about the National Merit Scholarship Program, check here. Excerpt:

... The NMSC uses the PSAT/NMSQT as the initial screen of over 1.5 million program entrants. In the spring of the junior year, NMSC determines a national Selection Index qualifying score (critical reading + math + writing skills scores) for "Commended" recognition, which is calculated each year to yield students at about the 96th percentile (top 50,000 highest scorers). Scores in the 200s (out of 240) often qualify for recognition, but qualifying levels change annually depending on how the top approximately 50,000 high scorers fared. Qualification levels also vary by state, and qualifying levels are higher in competitive states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts.[9] For the 2009/2010 school year, a score of 217 was required in California to qualify. Notification is mailed to school principals in April regarding students who scored at or above this level. The principals then notify their students of their status. These students are given the opportunity to identify two colleges or universities to which they would like NMSC to send their scores ...


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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