Using PSAT scores to develop a SAT study plan

By Harsha Jattani, New England Test Prep

A couple of weeks ago, we presented an in-depth review of the PSAT score report.  There is a wealth of information in this report that can be used to develop a study plan for the SAT.  While Khan Academy also develops a study plan based on your child’s PSAT report, ours is more personalized through self-assessment activities for each student.  

You may recall from our PSAT analysis report that we divided the score report into three main sections:  overall score, detailed scores (test score, subscore, and cross-test score), and Test Questions.  We will employ a top-down approach to utilize PSAT scores for a SAT study plan:

Let’s begin with the overall PSAT score and desired SAT score.  Be realistic when setting a desired score.  A couple of factors to consider are target scores for schools in which your child may be interested and how much time your child has to study for the exam.  If your child has less than one month before the SAT, it may be wise for him/her to chase low-hanging fruit and reinforce his/her strengths.  If your child has more than one month to prepare for the SAT, he/she can develop a more comprehensive study plan to improve his/her areas of weakness.  

Next, let’s see how each student can use the detailed scores (test score, subscore, and cross-score) and Test Question sections of the PSAT report to gain insight on content mastery and fine tune his/her study plan.   Briefly review detailed scores to determine areas of strength and weakness.  The next step is for the student to review each question that he/she answered incorrectly on the PSAT.  This can be found under the Test Questions section of the online PSAT report. We cannot overstate the importance of this exercise!  (Ideally, each student should review every question on the PSAT, regardless of whether he/she answered it correctly.)  Each student should plan to spend an uninterrupted 2-5 hours reviewing questions he/she answered incorrectly or omitted on the PSAT.  (Ideally, review all questions.)  Additionally, each student should self-assess why he/she answered test questions incorrectly:

  • Did he/she not understand a question?
  • Was he/she running out of time?
  • Did he/she spend too much time on a question?
  • Did he/she make a careless mistake?
  • Did he/she omit a question completely?  
  • Something else?

Below are general guidelines for each student to mitigate the aforementioned circumstances:

  • Be mindful during the exam.  This means reading the test passages and test questions attentively.  This helps one avoid re-reading passages/questions and missing key words in the questions/answers.  Sometimes one word can be the difference between the right and wrong answer.  Also, be mindful of time during each section of the exam.  In general, it is best to work through the easy questions of each section and come back to the harder questions.  
  • Review the PSAT score report to see whether the student omitted any questions on the exam.  Since there is no penalty for wrong answers on the PSAT and SAT, it is foolish to omit any questions on these exams!  Pick a letter and use the last 15-45 seconds of each section to bubble in an answer for each remaining question.  
  • Learn/develop strategies for approaching each type of test question. This includes timing strategies, question prioritization within a section (eg. reading a passage on a topic which you are more familiar with first), how to attack or at least manage difficult questions, among others.
  • Know the directions for each section ahead of time.  There is no need to waste valuable test time reading them on test day.

Incorporate these guidelines along with insight from the PSAT score report and self-assessment for SAT practice moving forward.  Use the Official SAT Study Guide, Khan Academy, or other SAT books to do practice questions regularly. It is best to do about 30 minutes of practice a day. If your child skips a day or two occasionally, don’t fret!  An occasional respite can help us regain our focus. Make up the lost time by doing an entire test section or exam over the weekend.     

Lastly, don’t forget about the essay!  One major difference between the PSAT and SAT is that the SAT has an optional essay section.  Thus, the section essay will be completely new to your child.  We highly recommend that your child take the essay section!  Thus, your child should familiarize himself/herself with the structure and grading criteria of the essay section.  Plan to spend at least one week learning and practicing for the essay section, more if time permits.  

Empowered with this information, you and your child can develop a well-structured SAT study plan to prepare him/her for the test.  For upcoming SAT test dates and registration deadlines, check out the College Board’s website.  Good luck!

About the Author

Harsha Jattani, New England Test Prep, is an Ivy League graduate with over 10 years of teaching experience at the high school and collegiate levels. She has mentored many high school students through the college applications process, which includes SAT/ACT preparation and essay writing guidance. Harsha has also taught graduate level courses at Northeastern University. She has a strong interest in education and keeps up to date on new educational ideas and trends.

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