Just about every high school in the country administers the PSAT/NMSQT to 11th graders during selected dates in October. Some schools also administer to 10th graders and even younger students. But just because a school is running the PSAT doesn’t mean a student has to take it.
The PSAT serves a four primary purposes for test takers, only some of which may be relevant to a given student:
- Enter scholarship competitions (11th grade only)
- Practice for the SAT
- Access to College Board planning resources
- Exposure to colleges
That last point doesn’t offer much value, as exposure to colleges simply means that hundreds of schools will mail marketing material based on students scores. Points 2 and 3 only matter for families that need a push to get the testing and college planning process started. The main value of the PSAT–entrance into the National Merit Scholarship program–only accrues to the highest achievers, though other strong scorers may qualify for different scholarships and opportunities.
On the other hand, taking the PSAT definitely doesn’t hurt. High schools manage most of the logistics, including specifying a day and time for testing, which is a departure from the effort enrolling for the SAT and ACT requires. Plus, students will be testing with the rest of their class.
High schoolers striving to complete testing by December of 11th grade won’t derive much benefit from the PSAT/NMSQT, as scores don’t come back until December or January. However, even those students might want to test in order to qualify for scholarship. For everyone else, taking the PSAT doesn’t hurt and might possibly help in a variety of ways.