The PSAT is coming to a high school near you. If you have a 10th or 11th grader it may be a good idea for him to take the test. It is the test that qualifies a student for the National Merit Scholarships. I am sure you have a pretty good idea by this point whether or not your student has a shot at being a finalist.

Remember that less than 1% of students will qualify as Semi-finalists. I am not saying it is impossible. It is possible for some, but don’t bang your child over the head with a practice book if it just isn’t going to happen for him.

However, my son has to practice. The PSAT and also the SAT are tests that can be learned. They are tricky tests that are more logic based than they are knowledge based. In fact, the math section isn’t that hard, but your child is going to have to learn how to read the question and understand what it is asking. Many times there is a lot of useless information in the question. It is frustrating.

If your child is like my child, they see how many they miss and get discouraged. It is important to remind them that the test is not written like their other math tests. They are not given a percentage based on how many they answered correctly. Their score is based on how many everyone else answered correctly. Sometimes questions are even thrown out. They aren’t meant to score 100%. There are some who do, but it is a very small percentage.

I was explaining this to my son today after he took his practice test. He was frustrated because he missed a fair number. After I explained that he is really being compared to everyone else he exclaimed, “Well,  that is just messed up!” I told him the trick is to learn how to answer the hard questions. Many gets the easy ones right. Some get most of the medium ones right, but the hard ones are where the points are. Now that he knows that he does get the easy ones right, he was encouraged. We can focus on some of the trickier questions. How do we tackle those?

In the grand scheme of things, the PSAT is not that big of a deal. It does get your child’s name out there, and I encourage you to tell them to check the box that allows schools to see their score. My daughter did fairly well on the test, and she was contacted by a few schools and encouraged to apply. Mostly small schools, but hey, it feels good. Even if your child doesn’t score well, it is a good experience. He can see what kind of problems he needs to work on and get direction. Khan Academy has teamed up with the College Board and will develop a study program for your child based on their PSAT score. (Yeah, it troubles me too, but it is free and helpful.)

I have calmed down a lot since my oldest took his first PSAT. I thought that this score would be a reflection of our homeschool. It wasn’t and still isn’t. Although, I do find it necessary and helpful. I have just learned to chill out. Study for the test. Be prepared. Encourage your child. Above all remember that it does not define him.