More Than Just "Practice"
Jun 26, 2000
The PSAT is often looked at as a practice test for the regular SAT. That's true, but that's not all it is. By scoring high on the PSAT during your Junior year of high school, you could earn national recognition and be eligible to win a scholarship in the National Merit competition.
I just graduated from high school this month, and I was a National Merit Finalist. I'd like to stress the importance of taking the PSAT. You should start thinking about taking it as soon as you start high school. You can take it before then, if you like, but I don't think it's really necessary. Three times is more than enough. I'd recommend taking it during your Freshman year, Sophomore year, and Junior year of high school. This will prepare you sufficiently, since the only time it REALLY counts toward anything is your Junior year. (This will also prepare you pretty well for the regular SAT, which I recommend taking during your Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years). If you can't take the PSAT more than once (it does cost money), then just take it during your Junior year, because it's the only year you are eligible for national recognition.
There isn't really an effective way of cramming for the PSAT. Paying attention in math class will definitely help your score on the math section. There are books that may help you, but nothing is more effective than learning the subject matter in class.
The verbal section is a different matter. Most times, you can't simply pick up what you need to know in class. Some of it is reading comprehension (reading a passage and answering questions about it), and some of it deals with word definitions and analogies. Those are the difficult problems. The best way that I know of to prepare yourself for the verbal section is to read a lot. Read anything you can. And here's the KEY: If you come across a word in your reading that you don't know, don't simply guess at it's meaning and move on. Instead, look up the word and write down its definition. Make sure you know what it means, within and without the context of the sentence you read it in. Keep doing this, ALL the time, not just the week or two before the test. This method definitely helped me.
The PSAT is also good because when you receive your score report, it tells you exactly which questions you answered correctly and which you answered incorrectly. Pay attention to that information, because it will tell you what you need to work on for the next time you take the test. They also give the test booklet back to you, so you can look at specific questions.
That's really all I can say about the PSAT. Good luck!