Parents of sophomores often ask us how their 10th graders should be approaching PSAT preparation: go in cold to get a baseline score or prepare diligently to score as high as possible?
In sophomore year, your student may be offered a version of the PSAT. Not every school offers it, so if your student isn’t given the option, don’t sweat it.
Sophomores will be offered one of two tests:
- PSAT 10: Designed for 10th graders and offered in the spring.
- PSAT/NMSQT: The same test administered in junior year, this is the official PSAT and National Merit Scholars Qualifying Test. Offered in October.
How Much Should Sophomores Study for the PSAT?
In general, we suggest students in 10th and 11th grade spend minimal time preparing for the PSAT.
PSAT vs. SAT
If you’re wondering, “Do sophomores take the SAT?” take a deep breath. There’s almost never any need for a high school sophomore student to be thinking about the SAT.
The PSAT is most appropriate for students in the fall of their junior year, but their school may also offer the PSAT 8/9 (for 8th graders and freshmen) or the PSAT 10 (for sophomores), either of which can help your young student identify their academic strengths and determine which courses may be a good fit during junior and senior years.
Students who take the traditional PSAT may earn entrance into the National Merit Scholarship Program and qualify for grant and scholarship funds. However,; be aware that a very small percentage of students earn this honor. If your student’s PSAT score does not qualify them for NMSP, it is still a valuable means of evaluating their SAT potential.
In the spring of junior year, your student should take the SAT for the first time. Though colleges and universities rarely even glance at PSAT scores, most of them look very closely at SAT scores (including some test optional schools, who will look at test scores if students submit them). The SAT and the ACT are considered indicative of your student’s preparedness for the rigor of college courses.
If Your Sophomore Takes the PSAT
To be clear, your sophomore student is allowed to take the PSAT if they’re interested. There’s simply no reason for younger students to divert their attention from day-to-day classwork to prepare for a test that may be well above their current capabilities.
However, if you have an advanced student who’s eager to take the PSAT prior to their junior year, we recommend that they spend no more than 1-2 hours preparing with a sample PSAT exam. This will familiarize them with the exam format. Any other PSAT prep is best reserved for 11th grade, when the test’s topics will be better matched to your student’s skill level.
Because it’s rare for younger students to perform well on the PSAT, parents and guardians should prepare themselves (and their students) to pay little attention to the test scores. PSAT scores are merely a benchmark of your student’s current aptitude, not an indicator of how they’ll grow and learn over the subsequent months and years.
How Important is the PSAT in the College Process?
The truth is that the PSAT doesn’t matter much in the college process.
While it may provide a testing benchmark for sophomores, the PSAT doesn’t offer a direct comparison to the SAT or ACT. And students have the ability to make great strides in their test scores between sophomore and junior year—simply by spending another year in the classroom (even a virtual one).
Colleges will never see your student’s PSAT scores; the only scores that matter to them are the ones officially submitted with your student’s application. Some schools are even choosing to go test-optional, either for the next 1-3 years or permanently.
Have you heard this line about potty-training your kids? You can start when they’re 2, and it will take until they’re 3. Or you can start when they’re 3, and it’ll take just a few weeks.
In other words, starting early doesn’t always provide a lot of additional benefits, but it does make for a lot of additional work! While your kid is no longer in diapers, the same concept applies to test prep. We don’t recommend that sophomores study for standardized testing any earlier than they need to. The risk of your student burning out on test prep is real.
The best thing your sophomore can do is stay focused on their academics, asking for help when they don’t understand a concept or are struggling with an idea. Then, they can channel the time they aren’t using for test prep into an extracurricular activity, tuning into curiosity, or spending quality time with family.
And finally, it’s not worth creating extra anxiety around such a low-stakes exam. Starting test prep too soon can add significant pressure, especially for students who are particularly anxious or competitive. The college process is stressful enough without adding in unnecessary achievements.
Instead, encourage your student to spend just a couple of hours reviewing a practice PSAT to get familiar with the format. Knowing what to expect on test day, and making sure they’re well-rested and well-fed, is enough. Save the rest of your student’s test prep energy and focus for junior year, when they’ll study for either the SAT or ACT. Signet’s SAT/ACT preparation guide can help them study when that time comes!
At Signet, we can assist students who may be overly anxious about test prep or the college process. While some stress about the college process is to be expected, it shouldn’t interfere with your child’s ability to enjoy their high school experience. Call or text us at 617-714-5262 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.