Should sophomores take PSATs?

Published on November 14th, 2011


Standardized testing has always been a mainstay of high school education.

Taking the PSATs, or the Preliminary SATs, is often a high school student’s first step into the plethora of standardized testing that plays such a major role in the college application process. But should this first step occur in a student’s sophomore or junior year? The College Board advises sophomores to consider the PSAT, but instructs juniors to take it.

“Everybody who’s thinking about college should take the PSATs in the fall of their junior year,” said guidance counselor Bridget McHugh.

The PSAT doubles as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) for juniors. Three types of these scholarships are awarded to about 8,300 students who took the PSATs in the fall of their junior year. The first type is the $2500 National Merit Scholarship, awarded based on state.

Second is the corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship, awarded by various companies to students who either are children of employees, live near a branch of the company, or plan to study a field related to the area of business in college. Last but not least, there are the college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards, given by colleges to students who have chosen to enroll at their schools.

While each of these scholarships provides a fantastic opportunity for students to succeed, why would anyone take PSATs their sophomore year if they cannot win one? Sophomore Kristen Young did take the PSAT when it was offered at FLHS this October.

“I took them to get a baseline, so I know what I’ll need to study for next year,” she said. Young studied only minimally for this year’s round of tests, but hopes to do well her junior year with help from her sophomore year results. Not all sophomores took the test, however. Sophomore Will Powers finds taking the test as a sophomore needless.

“Sophomores have a lot of homework already,” he said. “Studying for the PSAT adds to their workload unnecessarily.”

When students put undue pressure on themselves to perform well, regardless of whether they have or have not learned the content being tested, what some call our nation’s obsession with testing just increases. The math tested on the PSATs is covered in Algebra 1 and Geometry. If students are taking Geometry their sophomore year, McHugh emphasized that they must accept the fact that they will not know the majority of the math on the test.

However, she said, “There are some people who are just nervous about the process, and if taking the PSATs twice makes them more comfortable with that sort of test, [so that] by the time they’re taking the SATs they’re more comfortable with going into a situation like that, [it can] work better for some people.”

As long as students who are taking grade-level classes are fine with getting lower scores on the portions of the tests they do not know, taking the PSATs can be a helpful experience.

FLHS offers the PSATs once each fall, and opens registration up to both juniors and sophomores. However, priority is given to juniors. Having taken the PSATs twice, junior Katie Burns said, “I don’t think it’s necessary [to take the PSATs sophomore year]…it can be good for practice, but it’s kind of a waste of time because it doesn’t count.”



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