PSAT/NMSQT/ACT/SAT. No, not a big bowl of alphabet soup, but what the heck does it all mean?
First, these jumbled letters all translate to different kinds of standardized college tests. We’ll explain each one, give you a few pointers, and show you how doing well can help you earn money for college.
Let’s start with the PSAT/NMSQT, which stands for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Whew, grab a napkin because that’s a mouthful. Sophomores and juniors take the test, and sometimes eighth and ninth graders take a practice version. When juniors take it and perform well, it can mean big money for college. The College Board produces the PSAT, which helps predict success for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test).
The SAT and ACT (American College Test) are college-entrance exams. Colleges review student scores to determine admission and scholarships. Score well, and it could mean FREE money for college. We’ll offer some pointers below on how to improve your scores. Just know you don’t need to take both tests, but you may want to take one test twice. What the heck for? First, students often improve their score when they take the test again. Second, universities often use what’s called superscoring, which means they use the highest score from each portion of the test and combine them to give you a SUPERSCORE. You choose which test to take. Check out the practice tests for the SAT and ACT to see which one may work best for you. If you still can’t decide which test to take, talk to your GEAR UP Coach or school counselor. They’re great resources, too.
- Tips for Test Success = Free Money for College:
1. Learn the format of each test.
The College Board produces both the PSAT and SAT so you may find similarities there. Both the ACT and the SAT will test you on things like reading, writing, and math, but depending on the type of learner you are, you may naturally perform better on one or the other. By the way, if you want to know which is the easiest test, you’re out of luck. Both will challenge you, but you can do it.
2. Check out study guides or take a prep class.
You may be tempted to wing it. Don’t. Performing well on these tests can translate into free money for college. Both Princeton Review and Kaplan offer prep classes, and they guarantee your scores will increase. The downside? The classes are pricey, but it could yield tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. Don’t worry if you can’t take a formal class. You can still improve your scores with study guides. So, check out the library or bookstore to grab a book or two.
3. Set a target score you’d like to achieve.
After you review each kind of test and scoring methods, set a score you’d like to reach. If there are universities you’re interested in attending, visit their scholarship pages to see what they want to see for ACT/SAT scores. Remember, the more selective the university, the higher score you’ll need.
4. Take an official practice test before studying.
ACT prep, SAT prep, and PSAT all offer practice tests—for free. This will provide some great information on what you need to keep studying. It also gives you a baseline so you can see how much you’ve improved. Super Pro tip: sign up for the practice test through Khan Academy, and they’ll tailor a practice plan based on your scores.
5. Analyze your mistakes & keep practicing.
Take a look at where you veered off course. Was it a timing issue? Do you need to practice vocabulary or math problems? Just remember to keep up the great work—practice, practice, practice.
Lastly, as you prepare for these tests, remember, all these organizations offer fee waivers if you need them. So, check with your GEAR UP Coach or school counselor to see if you qualify. One last thing—Arizona GEAR UP keeps track of a few scholarship opportunities, so check them out, too. Good luck!