If you’re like a lot of parents of high school students, you’re already looking toward the fall testing season and wondering what you can do to make your child’s life easier.

You’re also thinking about college, starting to dream and plan, and wondering how this next season is going to affect your family’s decision-making (not to mention finances) in the coming years.

Here’s a little wisdom to make achieving that successful PSAT/NMSQT® test score next October a little simpler.


First, what is a successful PSAT test score?

Different students are, well, different. PSAT test prep is all about practice, analyzing needs for further practice, and taking the next step for each individual.

A good PSAT test score depends on your child’s goals. What are the SAT® test score requirements for admission to his or her dream schools? Does he or she want to try to qualify as a National Merit® Scholar? What grade is he or she in?

In short, a successful test score is one that roughly approximates the level at which he or she wants to be on the SAT test, taking into account the number of years left to improve, and most of all reflects the work your child put into the test.

Whether your child is taking the PSAT test in 9th, 10th, or 11th grade, taking your child’s individual needs and goals into consideration is essential.

1. Study, don’t worry

The PSAT test works better as an assessment tool if your child is willing to study for it.

Three kinds of students, in particular, may struggle with applying themselves fully to this task: those who are very gifted academically and “don’t need to study,” those who are high-performing and worry about tests, and those who, because of academic struggles in the past, feel fear or despair.

Encourage your child to study and help him or her to get the mental, emotional, and physical space necessary to do so in a relaxed manner.

Redesign a study space. Cut down the hours on the part-time job. Find that cozy nook in the library where you can sneak in a Frappuccino™. Restock on fun pencils and notebooks. And let your child know, in word and deed, that it will be OK. It’s your child’s job right now to study. But your child needs to know that he or she is more than just a number.

2. Pick out areas of concentration

How should study time be allocated? The PSAT test is comprised of three sections: reading, writing, and math. There is no essay.

The total testing time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with 60 minutes for reading, 35 minutes for writing, and 70 minutes for math (25 minutes non-calculator and 45 minutes with a calculator).

Is there any part of the test that makes your child cringe? Any areas in which scores at school could use some improvement? Or perhaps is the test-taking process itself, the timing aspect, or the multiple-choice format intimidating?

Don’t neglect to do practice work in areas of strength, but concentrate energy on whichever aspects of the testing will likely be the most challenging.

3. Party like it’s 1895

As 12th grade approaches, the need (or at least the desire) for a smartphone may increase, but the need for self-discipline is vital.

There are certain ways that screens make a shortcut in the mind—including memory and critical thinking skills—and in preparation for testing, your child will need to be taking significant breaks from “shortcut” technologies.

This means frequently reading a mix of books he or she enjoys and (by 10th grade) texts that approach college freshman level, including non-fiction.

This also means writing papers with spell check turned off until finished, only then turning it back on. (Better yet, download Grammarly, which is more updated than Microsoft spell check.)

Review errors together with your child. Consider subscribing to a local newspaper, reading articles, and discussing them.

You should absolutely employ practice tests, which you can find online and through test prep and tutoring services.

4. Practice math with and without a calculator

Your child will be able to use a calculator for the PSAT test, so calculator literacy is essential.

But if there’s a method for working out a problem without a calculator, try it. It’s good to understand a problem from multiple angles when possible.

Your child should also memorize simple calculations and roots through 15. See if some practice in these areas increases speed, confidence, or efficiency.

Practice tests and study guides are available for free online and include geometry, algebra, graphing, rounding decimals, converting mixed numbers to improper fractions, analyzing data, and other basic mathematical concepts. Leverage the math homework your child already brings home as additional practice.

Tutoring services can provide more hands-on guidance.

5. The night before the test? Go see a movie!

Make it a goal to stop all serious studying 24 hours before testing, and encourage your child to take a nap, eat some good food, go for a run, take the dog to the park, hang out with friends, or go see a movie.

The hardest work is done. The night before the test is time to give the brain a break, not wrack it.

Taking a break has even been shown to increase productivity. Resting also lends perspective.

Not everything in life is measured by a score. Celebrate the fact that your child has worked hard, and then get ready to celebrate the achievement.

For more tips on how to prepare for the PSAT test, read “Why Is the PSAT Test Important?

Need help preparing your child for the PSAT Test?

For practice testing, get in touch with us at KD College Prep. We ensure that each student not only gets a practice test score but also a review of each exam to understand mistakes. We understand that real success is about real learning. And we love writing success stories—with spell check turned off, of course.

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