11th grade is the year that is most important for getting into a good college. It’s the year students are expected to have the best grades and it’s the year that students take the SAT and ACT, two tests that may be the tipping point of getting into a college or not. For some students at Community, Wednesday Oct. 17 was just a day to relax and a day to sleep in late. But for freshmen, juniors and the occasional sophomore, Wednesday was the day of testing.
Freshmen take the MEAP and juniors and some sophomores take the Preliminary Standardized Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The PSAT is a free practice test for the SAT. It is a test that most students take their junior year. When a student hears the words “standardized testing,” they cringe, but the PSAT is less stressful because it’s a practice test and isn’t looked at by colleges.
The PSAT is a test that includes five separate sections: two 25-minute critical reading sections, two 25-minute math sections, and one 30-minute writing skills section. Much like the SAT, the PSAT is a race against the clock. “[The College Board] takes the easy and medium questions from the SAT, so it’s easier, because it’s normed for first semester juniors. And the SAT is really normed for juniors and seniors so it’s a little easier and a little shorter,” said John Boshoven, one of the two counselors working at Community High School.
Many students may have wondered what the point of the PSAT was, Boshoven said the test is “a tuneup for the SAT. You get used to what it feels like under real testing conditions when they have someone saying ‘start’ and ‘stop.’ You get used to this sort of layout of the land so that when you take it for real, [and] it’s more high stakes, you’re comfortable with the surroundings.”
This test is also useful because it helps students qualify for a National Merit Scholarship (NMS). With a NMS comes $2,500 from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and more from other scholarships from various sponsors. Before qualifying for a NMS students must be:
1. A U.S. citizen/intended U.S. citizen
2. Enrolled full time in high school
3. Taking the PSAT their junior year
4. Carrying a strong academic record
5. Going to complete the NMSC Scholarship application
But out of the 1.5 million entries there are only 15,000 finalists who receive special scholarships from corporate sponsors and out of those 8,200 will receive the National Merit Scholarship. Each of those 8,200 will be given $2,500 dollars from NMSC
Like any standardized test there is some controversy over how well the PSAT judges students. “The problem with standardized tests is that they’re stressful and they don’t even judge the students fairly,” said CHS junior, Sterling Stoll.
His friend Byron Lau nodded in agreement and added, “It doesn’t judge you on your intelligence, it judges on how much you can do in a certain amount of time, and how good you are at guessing. That’s not the same as how smart you are.”
The PSAT is a test that is useful for figuring out what you need to improve on for when students take the SAT. It is helpful even if you dislike standardized tests and it can even help get scholarships to pay for some of college. Boshoven endorses the PSAT as good practice saying, “[the PSAT] is kind of like in track practice you don’t start of running a 5 mile, you start with 1 lap around the track, that’s practice for a later and bigger race which is the SAT”