Should Freshmen Really Take the PSAT?
As freshmen filed out of the Commons after taking the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) 8/9, they breathed a collective sigh of relief, knowing it was finally over. But the question remained: Why had they taken the test at all?
The PSAT is meant to provide students with an indication on how they would score on the SAT, which has long been a crucial component of college applications. Additionally, students who reach their state’s elusive high score within the Selection Index in their junior year are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, valued at $2,000.
Despite the touted benefits of the PSAT 8/9, many students were unsure of its value. Freshman Aminata Sissoko thought it should be optional. She said, “Even though it’s not graded, it can bring kids a lot of stress, or their parents saying they have to do [well],” she said. “I think you should only do it if you want to, to see how well you’re doing.”
Kaelyn Granberry, another freshman, agreed that it should be optional since students are not eligible for the National Merit Scholarship until junior year, and the exam brings “a lot of stress when it doesn’t really matter in the long run.”
The PSAT 8/9, the version of the test for freshmen, is a simpler exam than the better-known PSAT 10/11. Sissoko, Granberry, and Hazel Klein, all freshman, concurred they did not feel prepared for the PSAT, as they had not received handbooks other students had, and that it was “more strict” than standardized tests in the past.
“We were just told the date and told to show up early,” Klein said. She also noted its similarity to other standardized tests she had taken.
In contrast, ninth grader Hugo Bonelli claimed that it could help freshmen get a feel for this kind of testing and that he felt prepared for it, saying, “I think that conceptually the segments were fitting for freshmen and their grade.” Still, he notes, “It was designed to be much better enforced with testing security. It did feel a lot different.”
Hafsatu Iro, the ninth grade class counselor, said that “freshmen don’t need to prepare, as the skills you need are taught in class and freshmen tend to be prepared; those that [do not feel prepared] are encouraged to practice in Khan Academy or later on take an SAT prep class.”
Ms. Iro disputed the notion that students are stressed, saying, “I don’t think they’re stressed. It’s not a real test; it’s just practice.”
Jordyn Hurry, a current senior, said that the PSAT helps accustom students to multi-hour standardized tests. “I’m not completely sure how [the preparation of the PSAT] would compare to just taking a regular SAT class or just studying a whole bunch.”
She noted that she didn’t remember taking the test in freshman year, which “might say a little bit about how useful it might be.”
According to the College Board, the PSAT is “a low-stakes test, meaning colleges and scholarship programs will never see the score. [The test] is an early barometer to identify areas of study that may need work.”
Ms. Iro explained that the PSAT helps freshmen study in the future. “When you get the scores back, [there is] a partnership between College Board and Khan Academy,” she said. “Students will get personalized feedback on their test, and [Khan Academy] creates a practice test based on the skills you need to improve.” This information can help students prepare for the SAT.
Ms. Iro continued, “Without taking the PSAT, you lose the opportunity for this practice, and the earlier the practice the better. When you come to take the PSAT in 11th grade, you’re boosting your chances of improving your scores in 11th grade, meaning highly selective colleges will be more interested.”