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How to Talk to Your Child about the PSAT

By Amy Gardner

The PSAT/NMSQT is coming up on October 13th. Like any other standardized test, it can be stressful for your teen, who probably will have some questions and concerns about the test. It is important to give them important details about this exam, so that they can best prepare during the weeks ahead of it.

Here are some tips on how to talk to your child about the upcoming PSAT.

1. Explain what the PSAT is - a Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. As the name implies, the PSAT is similar to the SAT, but allows for students to gain a better understanding of where his/her skills are in advance of the actual test. It is important to explain to your child that, while the PSAT/NMSQT is still a standardized exam, for most students its results do not have as much of a bearing on their academic future as the SAT can. For students in their sophomore year, it’s an opportunity to practice for the SAT and experience the administration process. Their results help them to assess their current level of college readiness and potential success on the SAT.

2. That said, you should also explain why the PSAT/NMSQT is important. The significance of the PSAT/NMSQT can be found in the second part of the name, “NMSQT,” or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Unlike the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT can only be taken once per year, and students in the eleventh grade who achieve an extremely high score may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. This program provides opportunities for academic recognition and scholarships. Because so many high school juniors take this test each year, it can be a competitive exam if your child is in pursuit of a National Merit Scholarship. About 5 million people will take the PSAT/NMSQT. Of those, about 16,000 become Semi-finalists, but only about 7,600 will be awarded the National Merit Scholarship.

3. Not looking to get a National Merit Scholarship? Talk to your teen about the importance of the PSAT beyond that. The PSAT offers your child a glimpse at approximately how well they will do on the SAT, and what areas they could use improvement on. The PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT and is scored on a slightly different scale, but the content and length of the two tests are relatively similar. This can be especially useful for juniors attempting to pull together a list of colleges they may be interested in applying to the following year. The PSAT also gives students an indication of their potential for academic success in college.

4. Remind your child that the PSAT is not a test for which they can cram. While the exam should be taken seriously, there is not as much pressure on the students to achieve a certain score as there is for other standardized tests. Because the PSAT/NMSQT is mainly in place so juniors can strive to achieve a competitive scholarship and see where their SAT score might fall, your child can prepare as much or as little as they would like. Those seriously striving for the National Merit Scholarship know they should invest time in practicing questions and strategies. Those simply seeking a first look at their college preparedness and potential SAT score, should at least take a look at the subjects, time limits, number and types of questions in each section to eliminate the element of surprise on test day.

5. If your teen still seems stressed about the upcoming PSAT, offer to help them find resources to prepare. While there are plenty of online options for students studying for the PSAT, Sylvan Learning Center offers personalized in person and live, virtual Test Prep services and college planning sessions for you and your child. As with any stressor, build their confidence by empowering them with knowledge of what to expect and assure them of your support through this process.

Those are the tips for your teen. As for you, try to remember this is their first definitive step on the trail to starting college. And then try not to cry.

Amy Gardner is the Franchise Owner for Sylvan Learning Center of Greenville. Learn more at


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