After the PSAT

Students who took the PSAT in October can use the test score report to create a plan for additional testing. Students with strong PSAT scores can relax a bit, knowing that they should be in good shape for the SAT.

There is no reason to panic if the PSAT scores are on the low side. These scores are not sent to colleges. They are just an indication of how a student would do on the SAT at this point. For some students, low scores may mean that the ACT is a better test for them. All colleges accept either the SAT or ACT, and many test prep companies offer diagnostic tests to help students determine which exam is better suited to their strengths. Once students have identified which test is best, they can focus on that exam.

Most students benefit from some kind of test preparation, and there are lots of options. Students who are very motivated and self-disciplined can take advantage of free SAT preparation offered by Khan Academy, in collaboration with The College Board. The program uses PSAT results to identify areas that need strengthening and offers full-length, official practice SATs. The ACT offers its own low-cost online test preparation program as well as an online live classroom program provided by Kaplan Test Prep.

Many companies offer test prep classes, which are usually less expensive than private tutoring. Some students like the classroom approach, and if they take the course with friends, they can help each other with homework between sessions. Classroom prep programs can be time-intensive, and students need to be available to attend all sessions in order to get the best results.

Individual tutoring can be tailored to each student. Another advantage is that students may feel more accountable and attentive when working with a tutor, and they may feel more comfortable asking for a math problem to be explained several times in the one-to-one meetings. Sessions are typically an hour and a half per week, and can be scheduled at the student’s convenience. Tutoring is most effective if the student completes practice test sections between sessions. Getting the right tutor is also important, and if you are dealing with a test prep company, you can ask for a different tutor if the first one is not a good match.

While test preparation can help some students boost scores by 100 or more points, it doesn’t work for everyone. It may be extreme test anxiety, or just the fact that standardized tests are not the best way for some students to demonstrate their knowledge.

It is understandably upsetting to try your best and still not end up with test scores that reflect your academic ability. But it doesn’t mean that student won’t have great college options. Each year, more schools are becoming test-optional. While it’s true that University of California and most highly selective schools still require test scores, there are some very selective schools that do not require test scores, including Wesleyan University, George Washington University, Wake Forest University, Bryn Mawr College and Bowdoin College, as well as Pitzer College here in Southern California.

You can find a complete list of test-optional colleges at I always encourage students to find a couple of test- optional colleges they really like before they take the SAT or ACT. Then they can go into the exam knowing that they don’t even have to send the scores to schools they’re excited about attending. This helps reduce anxiety, and that can make the entire college admissions process less stressful and more successful.

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