You’ll have a chance at a prestigious National Merit Scholarship. For juniors, the PSAT is the primary factoring in determining who becomes a National Merit Scholar. The $2,500 scholarship is nice, but more importantly many colleges actively recruit NMS and semi-finalists, often offering them additional aid money on top of the official award. Some even offer a full ride.
You’ll get practice with a high-stakes test format in a relatively low-stakes setting. The PSAT provides a good chance to take an official test in an official test environment, but will not determine the scores that go on your college applications. This provides a good chance to practice dealing with test anxiety so you’re more relaxed when it really counts.
It will give you valuable information about your strengths and weaknesses. This can be especially valuable if you take the test as both a sophomore and a junior. If you do well as a sophomore, you’ll know you’re in the running for a NMS and might put extra effort into preparing before you take the test again junior year. If you do poorly, you’ll still have plenty of time to prepare and get help before taking the PSAT again, and before taking the SAT or ACT for college applications.
It will give you experience with the new test format and help you decide between the New SAT and the ACT. The SAT has just been through a major overhaul, and the PSAT reflects these changes. Since no one has much experience with the new test, the PSAT provides a valuable opportunity to become familiar with this new format. It can help you decide whether the New SAT or ACT will be a better choice for you when you go to take the “real” test.
It can be a valuable recruitment tool for colleges, which can lead to additional opportunities. Personally, I found this to be the biggest benefit of the PSAT. Although I did this many years ago, the same process is still in place. Checking the box allowing the College Board to share my contact information with schools resulted in a flood of recruitment mail from universities across the country. Though I came up a little short of getting a NMS, one of the schools that recruited me, Claremont McKenna College, ended up offering me a very generous scholarship and aid package, and I was able to afford four years of private college virtually debt-free. If I hadn’t received recruitment mail from schools because of my PSAT scores, I might not have connected with this amazing opportunity.
It can be a valuable tool for school counselors. Many counselors have hundreds of students on their caseloads and, unfortunately, they can’t personally get to know each one. The PSAT can provide them with important information; it might help them recognize a student who is not working to his/her full potential, or help them connect students with high grades and low scores with the right test preparation resources.
It’s convenient and low-cost. The PSAT is offered at your school, usually during school hours, and only costs $15 per student. Some schools and districts even pay the fee for students.
So the real question is, why not take the PSAT?
At best, it’s a chance to win a valuable scholarship and the attention of schools across the country. At worst, it’s a slightly stressful morning that will provide you with valuable information about your strengths and weaknesses. So when test day comes around this October, you should definitely give it your best effort. No matter how it goes, you’ll come out ahead.