As a parent of someone who has just entered college and as a teacher with over twenty-four years of experience, I couldn’t recommend strongly enough that children sit for their first PSAT during their sophomore year. It’s the perfect “low stakes” testing environment: the exam doesn’t count toward National Merit; it is taken again after a year’s growth so improvement is something that can be measured; and rather than seeing it as an assessment of what colleges might be right for your child, the exam can simply be used as a diagnostic of where he or she is right now.

Ironically, the reasons many parents are loath to have their kids take the test in 10th grade were the very reasons why I thought it important to do so. As sophomores, kids enter with an understanding that they are not yet fully prepared for all the concepts in Math, for example, since the test aligns with most curriculums. Because of that mindset, our family really liked how the PSAT helped us to differentiate between things that my daughter didn’t get right because she didn’t know them versus those things she didn’t get right because she had made a mistake during the test.

And during all my years as a teacher, I’ve seen that taking the test early can really reduce the stress of the college process. If a child is overly anxious, this may even help provide a focus. If a child doesn’t see academics as that important, the test might offer him or her a sense of what could be done to bring about the future he or she envisions. Taking the test as sophomores often inspires kids to become serious about their college plans early.

And that is all possible because the test doesn’t yet count!

Before taking the PSAT as a sophomore, my daughter learned the test format, explored the reading and math skills she needed, and gathered tips for approaching the different sections. That early review for the test made the whole experience informative and helpful.

As an educator and parent, I couldn’t have asked for more of a standardized test. I felt it was the first time I was able to use a test the way it was meant to be used, to gather information about her as a learner, rather than have it open or close doors to my daughter’s future.

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