Taking the PSAT/NMSQT® test is excellent preparation for the SAT® test. But it also gives your child a chance to qualify as a National Merit® Scholar. This means potential recognition for academic achievement that can lead to scholarships, both from the National Merit® Corporation and from outside sources such as participating companies and colleges.

But how do you help your child prepare to achieve scores that lead to National Merit® qualification? National Merit® scholarships are not reserved for geniuses and academic whiz kids. There are several steps any parent can take and lots of help at hand.

If your child has already made it to Semifinalist, congratulations! See our advice on going from Semifinalist to Finalist

But if your child has yet to take the test, here are four ways you can help him or her prepare, no matter at what level your child is starting.

1. Understand the Test
The PSAT/NMSQT® test is scored in two main sections: Reading/Writing (Verbal) and Math. The Reading/Writing section tests on reading and grammar skills and the Math section requires work with and without a calculator. The score received on the PSAT/NMSQT® test will correspond with the score your child would have received on the SAT® test if he or she had taken it that same day. It is not expected, however, that an average 9th, 10th, or 11th grader taking the PSAT/NMSQT® test will score as high as an average student taking the SAT® test.|

2. Build Math Skills
To prepare for the Math section, your child will want to aim for mastery in a number of different areas, with a special focus on algebra, data analysis, and problem-solving. These are subjects that are already being taught in school. Your child’s grades in math classes are one indicator of performance, but anything from brush up work to more intensive study may be needed. Practice tests are a good way to get an idea of where your child stands with each skill. Extra work, including practice tests, can be found online.

Also, encourage your child to go “old school” and work without a calculator whenever possible, exercising that mental muscle and to memorize simple calculations. It also helps to explain problems and their solutions aloud to another person. See if your student can teach you the concepts he or she is learning. If so, you’re on the right track!

3. Read, Read, Read
Building verbal skills begins with reading. Encourage your child to read for fun. See if your whole family can make a discipline of less screen time and more page time this school year. (And that means an added bonus for you. Surely there’s some reading list you’ve been meaning to catch up on!) Make the atmosphere for reading relaxing. Pop popcorn, make lemonade, string a hammock, turn off the phones—anything that helps.

And while young adult novels or comic books can be well worth a Saturday afternoon, they have limited potential in terms of National Merit® prep. The goal here is to start reaching for college-level material. Have your child choose from a recommended reading list for college freshman.

You might also consider purchasing copies of the books so your child can write in them. Circling unfamiliar words and looking them up (especially with an old-fashioned paper dictionary) is a great way to build vocabulary. Analyzing the author’s intent—identifying themes and repeated motifs or even dialoguing with the author in the margin notes (i.e., “Melville, what were you thinking?? 20 pages about blubber?”) — can provide lively ways of interacting with the text and build analytical skills.

Finally, lots of free practice for vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and analysis can be found online.

4. Get Extra Prep and Practice
It’s not all up to you. (Insert sigh of relief here.) There are many outside resources to help your child. This includes all the free online practice tests and quizzes in key subject areas as well as the academic counseling staff at your child’s school.

There are also some amazing opportunities available for African-American and Latino students interested in additional scholarship and leadership training. The United Negro College Fund and Subiendo Academy, for example, offer many opportunities to explore.

And if you believe hands-on test prep and tutoring services are a good fit for your family, or to explore the possibilities, contact KD College Prep. We believe that scholarships and high achievement aren’t just for the lucky few. We’re the lucky ones, actually. We love to provide PSAT/NMSQT® test prep tailored to any student’s needs and continue with your family until your child is finished testing. Check out our current discounts!