High school juniors are close to starting their series of tests that will effect their getting into college and the financial aid that they will receive. These tests are the PSAT/NMSQT, the ACT and the SAT. I am focusing on the PSAT/NMSQT for this discussion.

So what does PSAT/NMSQT stand for? It is the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. In 2012, high schools across the nation will offer all juniors the opportunity to take this test on October 17th or October 20th. This is the test that qualifies the top scoring students for the National Merit Scholarships and recognition. I generally do not hear of many schools that prepare their students with prepatory classes to take this test even though it can mean millions dollars of scholarships to students.

What is the PSAT? It is a shortened version of the SAT test cosponsored by College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

What is on the test? There are 3 sections to the test. Below are the explanations directly from the College Board website.

Reading:  there are 2 – 25 minutes sections.

1.      Sentence Completion questions measure your knowledge of the meanings of words and ability to understand how the different parts of a sentence logically fit together

2.      Passage-Based Reading questions measure your ability to read and think carefully about a single reading passage or a pair of related passages.

Math: there are 2 – 25 minute sections. The math section of the PSAT/NMSQT requires a basic knowledge of number and operation; algebra and functions (though not content covered in third-year math classes–content that will appear on the new SAT); geometry and measurement; and data analysis, statistics, and probability. You can use a calculator to answer math questions, but no question on the test requires a calculator.

1.      Multiple Choice questions ask you to decide which is the best of the five choices given.

2.      Grid-ins, or student-produced response questions, requires you to solve a problem and enter your answer.

Writing Skills: There is 1 – 30 minute section. The multiple-choice questions on writing skills measure your ability to express ideas effectively in standard-written English, to recognize faults in usage and structure, and to use language with sensitivity to meaning.

1.      Identifying Sentence Errors questions test your knowledge of grammar, usage, word choice, and idiom. You are required to find errors in sentences or indicate that there is no error.

2.      Improving Sentences questions ask you to choose the best, most effective form of an underlined portion of a given sentence.

3.      Improving Paragraphs questions require you to make choices about improving the logic, coherence, or organization in a flawed passage.

Unfortunately, many students do not take the PSAT/NMSQT seriously which is a mistake since there is millions of dollars worth of scholarship money at stake. I have seen students prepare for months for the ACT and SAT after they take the PSAT. Had they just prepared for the PSAT for a short period of time they could have qualified for more scholarship money. There still is plenty of time to prepare for the PSAT with a course that teaches students proper test taking techniques designed for the PSAT/SAT. For more information concerning PSAT prep go to http://www.cps-illinois.com/9.html. I will discuss the ACT and SAT and the benefits of each next.

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