High School Juniors! You Just Took The PSAT, Now Take These 5 Steps

If you took the PSAT or Pre-ACT this fall, you will have your scores soon—if you do not have them already. Once you have received your score report, what should you do next? If you are a junior in high school here are five steps that we recommend you take now:
1. Take a moment to congratulate yourself. You have taken a grueling standardized test and lived to tell about it. Reflect on what you’ve been through and use the experience to give you confidence as you take future standardized tests.
2. Assess your results. Students can log onto the College Board website to view their full PSAT score report. The College Board also publishes a detailed PDF to help students and parents interpret their PSAT scores.
Juniors who score in the top 3-4% of students in their state on the PSAT are named Commended Scholars. Juniors in the top 1% of students in their state qualify as National Merit Semifinalists. Outside of those two top distinctions, we check if students meet the college readiness grade-level benchmarks for each section:

PSAT/NMSQT 11th Grade Benchmarks (2018)
Score Percentile
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 460 42%
Math 510 62%

When we work with students, we tell them: your scores are somewhat predictive of how you would fare on the SAT or ACT if you took the tests today. But you aren’t taking them today. If you aren’t happy with the scores, don’t overreact. Keep in mind that no college will ever see them. Most importantly, know that it is common for students to improve their outcomes when they take the actual SAT or ACT.
3. Build on your results. Use your scores as a starting point to determine areas to focus on in preparation for taking the SAT or ACT. For example, if you aren’t happy with your score on the math section, focus your preparation on that area. Find a helpful SAT test prep book (or ACT test prep book) and online practice tests (College Board | Khan Academy | ACT.org) so you can begin to study for future tests.
4. Chart your course. Now is the time to chart your course for taking the SAT or ACT. Look up testing dates (SAT registration dates and deadlines | ACT registration dates and deadlines) and make a plan for when you will take the tests over the course of your junior spring and senior fall. It is wise to try both the SAT and the ACT and see which test you prefer. Once you have taken practice tests in both formats and determined your preference, you will want to take that test at least once more.
5. Engage with colleges that interest you. For those colleges that interest you, read their emails and sign up for their mailing lists. (You may want to create a special email account for all admission-related emails so you can keep them separate from your other mail.) Use the Find the Right College map to discover schools you might otherwise overlook. Engaging with these colleges early on will help you in this discovery phase. Don’t be afraid to reach out to their admissions office. Colleges will appreciate your early engagement, or demonstrated interest, when it comes time for you to apply. And your knowledge about the school may make it easier for you to complete your application as you demonstrate why you would be a good fit.

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