As college becomes more integral to a person’s success in life, the preparation children and teens undergo to get accepted into prestigious universities grows more strenuous. From SAT prep centers to prep books, many parents and students have poured their money into the college preparation industry, and many schools pressure their students into thinking about college from as young as elementary school to uphold their district’s reputation. One of the ways schools build onto this stress is FCPS high schools’ mandatory PSAT testing.
On Oct. 10, all TJ underclassmen will take the PSAT. The PSAT is analogous to the SAT but with different levels for freshmen and sophomores compared to juniors, who are given the version that qualifies them for National Merit Scholarships. Yet if freshmen and sophomores get different versions, why should they be taking a test only juniors get awards for?
The PSAT’s main perk is the scholarships. Provided a test taker’s score is in their state’s 98th to 99th percentile, they qualify as a National Merit Scholar. However, only high school juniors reap the PSAT’s perks. Even a sophomore who takes the qualifying PSAT does not actually qualify for the scholarship for the sole reason that they are not a junior. So why should freshman and sophomores still take the test?
One could argue that taking the PSAT early is good preparation, but TJ students already receive plenty of that through a difficult course load that goes beyond FCPS standards, as well as commercial SAT prep programs or self-studying via prep books. There is even official online prep via Khan Academy. Saving a day for just one three-hour test is largely inconsequential in the long run. To score well on the SAT, a student simply has to do repeated practice.
Though the PSAT may seem like a good way to gauge a student’s score on the SAT, the questions per PSAT version are still tailored to a student’s grade level. Therefore, the version that most likely resembles the SAT would be the PSAT/NMQST test, the version taken by mostly juniors as opposed to the PSAT 10 for sophomores and the PSAT 8/9 for freshmen. If the version freshmen and sophomores take is not the version closest to the SAT, then there is not much of a point in taking it besides using it as an inaccurate gauge of their future SAT score.
In addition, what if a student is not interested in taking the SAT or wants to gauge their success on the ACT instead? If FCPS wants to fully prepare their students for college, why not make them take both the PSAT and the ACT’s preliminary test, the PLAN? Or, better yet, why not set FCPS’s PSAT testing on a weekend? It isn’t worth dedicating a half-day of school to a mandatory test that does not fully benefit all underclassmen.
Sure, there are statistics proving otherwise. 94 juniors in Berkeley County, West Virginia, who took the county-mandated PSAT as a junior increased their SAT score by over 100 points. But how can it be drawn from these statistics alone that the test is what caused their increase? Though there does appear to be a link, it could also be caused by other factors such as the fact that junior year is the prime time for college test preparation.
While the PSAT does have its benefits, administering it as a mandatory test for FCPS students is not the answer. Instead, why not make it mandatory only for the juniors so younger underclassmen aren’t forced to waste piles of paper with #2 pencils?