How to Prepare for the PSAT


Motivated sophomores and Books2juniors who are looking to prepare for the PSAT are often surprised by what they find—or don’t find—on the shelves at the local bookstore and in the course catalogs of test prep companies. While the market seems flooded with SAT prep material, PSAT offerings—especially prep courses—are limited. Even the College Board, the maker of the two tests, offers SAT books, SAT online courses, and an entire web page dedicated to free SAT test prep, but their PSAT contributions are limited to a handful of sample questions. So how do students prepare for the test that holds the key to several major scholarships? 

The answer is simple: use SAT prep material and take SAT courses.

The tests are not just similar in name alone. The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is basically a mini version of the SAT—its little brother, so to speak—where the overwhelming majority of questions can be interchanged between the two tests.  The only differences? The PSAT has half as many sections (and is thus only half as long), it lacks an Essay, and it does not test the most difficult function questions included on the SAT. It makes sense, then, for students to study from material that is designed for SAT prep, provided they skip the sections on the Essay. This way, students get the best prep material for the PSAT, and it’s useful again in the following year or two when the they are ready to tackle the SAT.

While some independent learners do well studying on their own, most students find they do best in a typical academic setting and as a result enroll in a course. Because the PSAT does not carry the same weight as the SAT, many of our clients choose a weekend SAT course to prepare for the PSAT.  So what can the PSAT student learn in as single weekend SAT class? Our expert instructors will guide you through the content of the tests and expose how the College Board assesses that content. For example, they will reintroduce you to a right circular cylinder and share the formula for finding the volume of that cylinder. Then, once you are comfortable with the content, they will reveal the two types of questions involving cylinders on the PSAT and SAT: those that require you to use the volume formula and those that require you to find a hidden triangle in the cylinder. Our weekend course covers all of the math included on the PSAT.

The Reading sections of the PSAT and SAT are identical, so the SAT course is ideal for preparing for Reading on the PSAT. We will lead you through Sentence Completion and Passage-Based Reading questions while providing you with a list of the most commonly occurring vocabulary words. These words occur on both the PSAT and the SAT, so students can continue to study it beyond the PSAT.

The multiple-choice Writing sections on the PSAT and SAT are identical 35-question sections, so the grammatical content in our Weekend SAT Course refers to both tests. Instructors will pinpoint the most common errors on the test, from Subject Verb Agreement issues to Misplaced Modifiers. Learning to spot certain error indicators can increase your speed and raise your score significantly. The Essay is the last concept addressed in the course; while the PSAT does not have an Essay, PSAT students are urged to participate in this portion of the course anyway, since they will be composing an Essay in the future for the SAT.

So if you are searching for PSAT prep material, don’t panic when the bookshelves and course catalogs seem deficient. The abundance of SAT offerings are the best options for both your PSAT and SAT prep, provided you choose material or courses produced by companies with a reputation for the highest score increases.