PSAT: How to Nail It on Test Day

By: Brianna Naderpour and Elizabeth Carres
OCT. 12, 2016

Standardized testing season is here, and this can be a very stressful time for students. St. Thomas Aquinas (STA) freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will be testing on October 19. The PSAT’s sections include evidence-based reading and writing, as well as a math portion. One of the benefits to doing well on this test is a chance to qualify for the title of National Merit Scholar and the scholarship opportunities that this provides.There are a variety of things that every student can do to ensure success in every area of the test.

At STA, all math and English teachers devote time to PSAT review. Algebra II and Precalculus teacher Mrs. King thinks that repetition, as well as exposure to a wide variety of math problems, is the best way to prepare for the math portion of the test. She said, “The key to success is practice. The more you practice, the less surprised you’ll be on the test. On the new version of the test, there is more of a focus on word problems, and that tends to be difficult for students. I do a variety of problems with my students that pertain to the PSAT.”


Practice makes perfect!

Practice makes perfect!

Two STA English teachers, Mrs. Bolanos-Cadenas and Mr. Hackett, are among those who recognize the importance of putting an emphasis on PSAT preparation. Mrs. Bolanos-Cadenas said, “As is the case with any high-stakes event, preparedness is essential to success.  The key, or most crucial aspect of preparedness, I think, is mindset.  Research shows that approaching challenges with a positive mindset improves energy levels and even brain function.  Thinking positively can greatly affect the outcome of any endeavor.”

Mr. Hackett and Mrs. Bolanos both agree that practice tests are a great way to prepare for the PSAT. Mr. Hackett also mentioned that “taking a PSAT prep class is a very effective way to improve your scores.”

STA’s weekly Primetime broadcast is also a great way for students to sharpen the skills that they need, in order to perform well on the PSAT, as well as the SAT and ACT exams. Primetime coordinator Mr. Aloma said, “It’s a very useful tip. For kids who have not mastered the skills, [Primetime] gives them extra practice to master skills and to notice what skills are actually important on the test. For kids who are beyond the skills, it gives them a quick review for the skills that they maybe haven’t seen since around seventh grade. It gives them basic knowledge on what’s going to be on the test and additional exposure to those skills.”

Mr. Patacsil, guidance counselor and PSAT Coordinator, is in charge of assigning the proctors, setting up the classrooms and supplying all the materials for the students on the day of the test. He also ensures that all students are sorted into their designated rooms. As a guidance counselor, he cautioned that, “One big mistake students make … is that they don’t prepare because they don’t take it seriously. I’ve also heard that students have an issue with time-management. You have to make sure that you pace yourself well so that you can finish all the questions. You want to make sure that you finish all the questions because there are no penalties for wrong answers.” Mr. Patacsil also stressed the importance of utilizing the resources that STA makes readily available to students. He said, “ Make sure you review the Primetime videos before the test because they are all archived on Blackboard. There are also links to PSAT and ACT questions of the day and Khan Academy. Those are all available to students at no cost to them.” Mr. Patacsil mentioned that the PSAT is a good way to practice for the SAT, which is one of the most important tests for college admissions. If juniors score high enough, they can qualify as National Merit Scholars.

Scholarships make paying for college easier!

Scholarships make paying for college easier!

According to, the scholarship program is an academic competition for recognition, and scholarships, that began in 1955.  A finalist can win up to $2500 in scholarship money. FInalists, who win the scholarship, hold the prestigious title of National Merit Scholar for life, which is an attribute that stands out on college applications.

This year, STA has 10 students who qualify as National Merit Semi-Finalists. Semi-finalist, Luke Fraser said, “To prepare for the test, I attended PSAT prep classes, where I learned strategies from math wizards Mr. Byrne and Mrs. French and English gurus Mr. Aloma and Mrs. Becker.” Grace Boehm also offered helpful advice, “ I think people try to learn everything possible about math and English, but you don’t need to. Focus on the [specific] types of questions the tests tend to ask rather than trying to understand everything.”

There is a general concensus that the key to success is practice, and supports this advice. The site features a helpful article “Need-to-Know Tips and Strategies for the PSAT/NMSQT, “ that covers information about each section of the test and descriptions of the types of questions in each part. Success is very attainable and not meant to be intimidating, as long as students invest reasonable effort and time into preparation.