I think students and parents need to find reasons to stress less,
not more, about the college admissions process. The PSAT is a good
example of this need.
The stress students and parents feel
regarding PSAT scores (which are being returned to students about now),
is often totally out of proportion with the actual relevance of the
The PSAT is just a practice test. That's all. It
was created to let students take a non-threatening trial version of the
SAT before they take the real thing. It can't hurt you. It can't
damage your future. No student in the history of college admissions
has ever been rejected by a college because she scored poorly on the
Even good PSAT scores don't actually get you into
college. If you did well on the PSAT, it's good news because you will
likely do well on the SAT when you take it–and that exam absolutely can
help you get into college. Doing well on the PSAT is like doing well
on a practice test a teacher gives you before the big final exam; it's
a good sign but you'll still need to score well when it counts.
fact, the only way colleges use PSAT scores is to purchase names for
direct marketing mailings. If you took the test, you and your mailbox
will see what I mean later this spring.
So if you didn't do
well on the PSAT, don't launch into a full scale panic attack. As my
friend Paul Kanarek from The Princeton Review always says at the dozens
of PSAT scores back sessions he does at high schools every year, "You
are not allowed to panic over your PSAT scores."
who's not happy with your PSAT scores, use your results as your early
warning signal that you might want to do some work before you take the
real SAT. That's what test preparation is for (a service whose cost
ranges from thousands of dollars in private tutoring to $15 for a good book).
Now, I can hear some people saying, "But it's NOT just a practice test! What about National Merit scholarships?"
a small number of students (about 8,000 of the 1.5 million test takers)
are awarded scholarships every year, and the PSAT scores are the first
of many rounds of qualification you must endure. If you're notified
that your PSAT scores qualify you for future consideration, that's good
news (being in a line for future potential scholarship money is always
But for everyone else, again, don't panic. You're
in good company with the other 1.5 million test takers who will still
have plenty of the over 2,000 4-year colleges from which to choose.
point here isn't that students should blow off the PSAT. My point is
that students and parents would be well served to remind themselves
that if you lose sleep over your PSAT scores, you're placing far, far
more emphasis on the exam than any college will. That would be like
playing one bad game of pick-up basketball with your friends and
worrying that you won't make varsity because of it. It just doesn't
Less stress, not more.