Scoring a 1520 in Stress

By David McDaniels

Yet another standardized test. As students, we are trained in the art of taking these. From the ELA to the ACT,  at times our lives seem dominated by the little bubbles in which we fill in our answer. So why is it that the PSAT gets such little attention? I walked through the halls and only about ¼ of the lowerclassmen I spoke to knew what this test was, but when I asked juniors, complaints were prevalent and their anxiety was felt.

It is important to know what the PSAT is. Most only know it as a test that was administered on October 11th. By definition, it is the “Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test” in order to give students a real SAT experience before the test. This already brings up its first issue: the fact that more and more students are taking the ACT in place of the SAT. This means many times when students sit for the PSAT, it is the first time they are seeing a test anything like it. This creates a lot of stress and angst in these students. Nolan Sanders, a junior at Byram, said, “When I sat down for the test, it was crazy. I had never seen the test, and it was nerve-wracking.”

This is only the beginning of the problem. The second part is that this “preliminary test” really does count for something—the National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship hands out around four million dollars in merit money to juniors each year. Not to mention that a scholarship winner gets a great boost on his or her resume. With these raised stakes the pressure only increases on the students, many of whom are now forced to prepare for both tests. Spencer Karp, only a sophomore, said, “Next year I will have to look at the PSAT despite studying for the ACT.” This added workload is not good for a student already making his or her way through junior year.

Still, there is a final issue; the PSAT gives an unfair advantage to students that have decided to take the SAT rather than the ACT. Junior Dylan Starker says that she, “had already been preparing for the SAT.” This allowed her to go in with more confidence than many other students.

All of the presented issues raise the big question: why do schools keep giving this test? The College Board claims it is “a trial run for the SAT,” but with more students than ever taking the ACT, I think the trial should be over. Some think it is a good idea to have a common test rather than both the ACT and SAT to compare scores, but the stress of yet another three-hour standardized test is not worth it when only a few of the students actually prepare. The high stakes must be eliminated for this test to continue. But in the meantime, it does give the rest of the high schoolers a nice three-hour delay.