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The PSAT Tests: A Litany of Choices for College-Bound Students

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Carol Becker
Carol
Becker

Diane Kummer
Diane Kummer

“Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.” Learn more >>
Dear Friends, December 3, 2015

As we come to the end of the year, we pray that December finds you enjoying the peace, love, and joy of the season as you celebrate Christmas and spend time with friends and extended family. During the holidays, we encourage you to take your teen to a concert, read a novel aloud, participate in community activities, carol in your neighborhood, or bake delicacies that many will relish.

We must interrupt your holiday thoughts somewhat abruptly (!) to provide the latest information on the lineup of PSAT tests recently introduced by the College Board. To preserve the holiday spirit you can read this newsletter by candlelight as you sip a cup of hot cocoa and listen to special music.

Rolling Out the New Tests

Late in 2015, the College Board announced its new slate of PSAT tests: the PSAT 8/9, the PSAT 10, and the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Keep in mind that College Board profits by the sale of testing services—the more the merrier! Although a test is offered, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your teen benefits from taking the exam. Hopefully, the following information will explain the timing and details of each test; then you can determine which ones your teen actually needs.

PSAT 8/9

As the name implies, 8th and 9th grade students take the PSAT 8/9. College Board developed the PSAT 8/9 to help identify areas where college–bound teens need improvement. The skills covered are consistent with 8th and 9th grade English and math levels, and the test establishes an individualized baseline of student skills. Furthermore, students may set up an account to use test results to prepare individualized study recommendations, all of which utilize Khan Academy’s free resources. Ninth grade students will also receive an AP Potential™ relating to the teen’s readiness to tackle Advanced Placement (AP™) courses in 10th grade. By helping students become better prepared for the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and the SAT college entrance tests, College Board hopes to increase its market share.

There are two test date options for the PSAT 8/9 – fall and spring. Each test center chooses a particular date during one of the sessions. Homeschool parents who desire to register their teens should contact a local public or private school at least four months in advance to determine if the school plans to give the test and whether the test center can accommodate the student.

The College Board website advises teens how to prepare for the PSAT 8/9:

  • take challenging courses
  • do your homework
  • prepare for tests and quizzes
  • ask and answer lots of questions

Parents, encourage your teens to read the above list directly on the College Board website because it reinforces everything you remind them to do every day! Check here for more details on the reading section, writing/language section, and math section.

Specifically for homeschool students, College Board provides more information. The website offers a search feature to find a local school testing center, a list of approved calculators, and forms to download. Make special note of the state–specific homeschool test code because this directs College Board to send test scores to the student’s home address rather than the test location.

PSAT 10

Designed for 10th graders, the PSAT 10 is the same test as the PSAT/NMSQT except that College Board offers it through participating high schools in February or March. Homeschoolers must contact a local public or private school to register for the test at least four months in advance. Be sure to ask the school for the Official Student Guide that includes a practice test, or you can download the practice test and answer key directly from the website. When registering for the test, students who indicate “YES” to the Student Search Service give permission for scholarship sponsors and colleges to contact teens with information about various programs.

Students take the PSAT to practice for the SAT college entrance test. The PSAT 10 familiarizes students with the testing environment, replicates timed conditions for students to practice time management skills, provides familiarity with the test format, and introduces the types of questions encountered on the SAT. College Board states that PSAT 10 test scores can be correlated to AP Potential™, which gives parents information to gauge a student’s readiness to succeed in AP™ courses.

The PSAT 10 covers reading, writing and language skills, as well as math skills. For more information on the test design and interpretation of test scores refer to the College Board website.

Parents can find specific PSAT 10 details such as acceptable forms of ID and a test day checklist, here. Please note: The College Board has eliminated state specific PSAT homeschool codes. They are no longer necessary.

PSAT/NMSQT

Students usually take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in the fall of their junior year. Register your 11th grader to take the PSAT/NMSQT when you contact a local public or private school four months in advance of the October test date. The PSAT/NMSQT is a practice test for the SAT college entrance test, and it provides students with an evaluation of college readiness and skills necessary to do well in AP™ courses. Similar to the PSAT 10, students may set up an account with College Board and receive personalized study help through Khan Academy. Here is more information on the test design and the free practice test available to all teens.

Unlike the PSAT 10, test scores from the PSAT/NMSQT qualify students for National Merit Scholarships. View more details on National Merit Scholarships and other scholarship programs, which are based on PSAT/NMSQT test scores here.

The College Board’s information for homeschool students gives important details about approved calculatorsa, specific forms and test locations. Note: State specific homeschool PSAT codes are no longer necessary.

Other Items Relating to the PSAT Tests

  • Accommodations for Special Needs:For students with documented learning struggles, the College Board offers accommodations such as additional time, extended breaks, and reading or seeing modifications for the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT tests. The process to receive these accommodations is lengthy, so we suggest you begin early. Once you have provided the College Board with the required paper work for accommodations, College Board typically requires seven weeks to process a request. Look here for detailed information relating to test accommodations. Members of HSLDA may contact HSLDA’s Special Needs Consultants to ask questions about the process, and you can request a checklist to help you navigate the accommodations process.
  • Fee Waivers:Schools may charge $15 for the PSAT/NMSQT in addition to administrative or facility fees. Check with the test location to determine the cost for your student to take the test. Fee waivers are available only for homeschool juniors taking the PSAT/NMSQT if their family income qualifies.
  • Test Score Reports:Remember that using the state–specific homeschool codes ensures College Board sends test scores directly to the student’s home address rather than to the test location. College Board mails test scores and also offers scores online via an access code sent by email. Check out detailed test score information such as score structure (sub–scores and score ranges), interpretation of scores, and a sample score sheet.
  • Student ID Forms:On the test day, all students must bring either a government issued photo ID or a notarized College Board Student ID form.

Although it may require time to sort out the new lineup of PSAT tests, this information gives you a jump start to better understand the tests, how to register, and which (if any) of the tests may be beneficial to your teen. We hope HSLDA members feel free to contact us, and we are happy to discuss which tests are the best fit for your teen.

Join us next month as we tackle the topic of dual (or concurrent) enrollment courses taken by high school students at community or four year colleges.

Sending you and your family our warmest wishes for a blessed Christmas full of joy,

Carol Becker and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants