An estimated 3.6 million high school students are expected to take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test this week, about 100,000 more than last year, according to the College Board.
Generally, 10th, and 11th graders (and some 9th graders) pay a $14 exam fee, but a growing number of states and districts are covering the cost for all of their students. Nine states, plus the District of Columbia, and 300 school districts pick up the exam fees statewide or districtwide for students.
“It’s a way of encouraging more students to actually think about college,” said James Montoya, a vice president at the College Board, in a phone interview. “States are seeing this as an important step to becoming college-ready.”
High schools have the choice of offering the test, which lasts two hours and 10 minutes, on Wednesday, Oct. 16 or Saturday, Oct. 19. Unlike the SAT, for which students sign up individually, the PSAT is a school-based test.
PSAT fee waivers are available for low-income students and last year nearly 150,000 qualified at a cost of $2 million to the College Board.
The exam, which covers reading, math, and writing, can provide testing experience and has been linked with higher SAT scores. On average, students who took the PSAT scored 136 points more on the SAT than those who did not, according to the most recent SAT report from the College Board. (A perfect SAT score is 2,400.) The more familiar students are with the test format, the more comfortable they often are with the SAT, said Montoya.
Just taking the test can also spur important conversations about college planning, said Montoya.
“It’s an important step for students and families to sit together to talk about college and think about what courses they need to take to be successful in getting through high school and prepare for college,” he said.
Last year, the College Board began using PSAT scores to help identify students who had the potential to succeed in Advanced Placement courses. In addition to the students receiving feedback, teachers and counselors can get access to rosters on the College Board website of all their students who have AP potential in various subject areas—meaning they are deemed to have a 60 percent likelihood of scoring a 3 or better on an AP exam.
There were about 300,000 SAT test-takers in the class of 2012 identified as having AP potential, but who did not enroll in an AP course, according to College Board.
The PSAT/NMSQT results are used by colleges to reach out to students with information about their schools and programs. The exam is also used as a qualifying test to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program.
On the PSAT score cards, students can see their areas of strengths and specific skills that need improvement. To review how they did on each question and get explanations of correct answers, students can sign on to the College Board’s website. My College QuickStart is a free, interactive tool that allows students to review their exam performance and research potential college majors.
Just as the College Board is planning a revision of the SAT in 2015, Montoya said the PSAT will undergo changes to align with the new SAT on the same timetable.
A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.