For many high school students across America, the coming weeks will offer the first chance to get a look at the new, redesigned PSAT, which will give a preview of the new, redesigned SAT. As I’ve written previously, the PSAT is a great opportunity to see SAT-style questions in an actual test setting, without feeling too much pressure about your score. That being said, a little preparation before taking the test can make a big difference in how useful the detailed score report will be. So here are a couple of last-minute things to do, to ensure you will get the most out of the PSAT and be able to use the score report to its full diagnostic potential:

Even after all of this talk about how the PSAT is low-pressure, my most important advice is to take it seriously! Get a good night’s sleep, eat, do whatever you need to do to be ready and focused. For the data presented in the score report to be useful, you want to be confident that your performance is a good representation of your actual abilities and preparation level for the SAT, and not distorted by variables for which you could have controlled.

In a similar vein, the more familiar you are with the test format and structure before going in, the more time and energy you will be able to commit to the actual test questions rather than merely navigating the test. Therefore, try to spend at least a little time familiarizing yourself with the test before you take it. The best place to go is the College Board website, to take advantage of the PSAT resources they provide. I’d recommend doing any or all of the following three things (if you haven’t already):

  1. Look at the description of the test format and structure, including section timing and question format.
  2. Go through the practice PSAT provided, to see how the test is laid out, what types of questions you might see (be ready for those sneaky science/data analysis questions!), what the directions for the different sections are, etc..
  3. Try some questions, either individual questions provided on the website or from the practice test.

Whatever you have time to do to familiarize yourself with the test format will help you to make the most of the score report, to better be able to make a plan for the actual SAT!

But one last thing: don’t cram! It may be tempting to try to study up on some topics you know you are weak at. At this point, however, that shouldn’t be a priority: cramming doesn’t translate too well to long term retention or problem solving skills, there will be plenty of time to study for the actual SAT, and even if you aren’t prepared for all of the content, the score report will help you identify topics to review over the next year or two.

In other words, give it your best shot, but don’t sweat it. Good luck!

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