One of the first steps on the journey toward attending college is taking the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). All juniors (sophomores now take it in the spring) who are thinking of attending a four-year college should sign up for the test.

This year, the primary test date is on Wednesday, October 14. The cost is around $17 (fee waivers are available) with sign up now at the high school. When the student registers for the test, they are given an information booklet with a full sample test. There are substantial changes in design this year and it is imperative that the students prepare for these new changes in order to attain a representative score.

The PSAT changes have transformed the test to closely resemble the format of the ACT (American College Test). Some of those changes are the following: a) elimination of point reductions for incorrect answers (therefore guessing is encouraged); b) elimination of the vocabulary section; c) a one hour long reading section and d) a 45-minute math section. Those four changes evolve the design of the PSAT to resemble the design of the ACT.

In addition to those four changes, there is also a 25-minute math section that does not allow a calculator. The rationale for the prohibition of a calculator is unclear. That said, many students are not used to solving math problems without a calculator and therefore, practicing solving math problems without a calculator would be especially helpful.

The PSAT is important as it provides a view into one of the two primary factors affecting college selection and admission. The first factor is the grades on subjects taken in high school. The second primary factor is the score on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT. Parents can therefore think of the PSAT as a Practice SAT. Taking the PSAT is recommended for all juniors as they will take the real SAT in the spring. The PSAT practice this year will be especially important as the same changes noted above are due to be seen in the spring SAT. The results of the PSAT are received in early December. It assists parents and students with an assessment of the realistic chances of acceptance to a particular college and allows them time to consider taking a SAT review course in order to maximize their scores.

The PSAT score sheet will also have the results broken down into percentiles. A percentile is the percentage of people out of an average 100 students. For example, if you score in the 60th percentile, then you achieved a better score than 59 (out of 100) other students who took that test. This information gives students/parents a solid idea about where they stand and areas that can be improved.

Example: Let’s say that they scored a 52 in math (which equals a 520 on the SAT). Some parents may have always wanted their children to attend Boston University (BU) because they’ve seen their sports teams on TV and they have heard that it is a good school. So now, they can look up what the average SAT score for math is for BU. It is a 620. The further the student is below the average score, the more difficult is the acceptance.

The parent/student now knows that in order to have a better chance for BU’s 46 percent admission rate, the student will have to study harder, get a tutor, get subject help after school, or perhaps even take a summer school course. Realistically, a parent/student may now consider a less competitive school, such as Suffolk University as Suffolk’s average math SAT is a 510.

To help the student understand the results better, the score sheet will show what questions were answered correctly and the level of difficulty of each question. Each question is rated either as easy, medium, or hard, so the student can consider analyzing the results and developing a test strategy. That strategy might enable them to score a 570 in math and therefore consider looking at a smaller school like Emerson College, since their average math SAT is a 600.

It is highly recommended that students do not pass up this opportunity to gather important college admission information. The $17 fee is money well spent when considering a four-year investment of up to $250,000.

As previously noted, the student receives a full length new PSAT practice test when they register for the test. They should take advantage of the opportunity and maximize the results with practice. The results then will provide a real opportunity for improved college selection.

Tip of the Day: Make sure that the students have a calculator that they are comfortable with for the PSAT test.

Mr. Zorski was in business for 23 years and has been in education for 21 years. Please e-mail questions to

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