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PSAT/National Merit Test Provides Sneak Peek at College Readiness

Students in more than 22,000 high schools across the country will get an early taste of college-entrance-exam testing this week (Oct. 17 and Oct. 20) with the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).

The experience for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders has shown to give them a leg up for the actual SAT.

Students who took the PSAT/NMSQT before the SAT scored 136 points higher, on average, on the SAT than those who did not take the PSAT/NMSQT, according to the results of the SAT Report on College and Career Readiness 2012. For public school students, the boost was even greater—171 points. Among the class of 2011, taking the PSAT was linked to a 145-point increase; in 2010, it was 146 points, and in 2009, the experience increased scores on average by 121 points. (A perfect SAT score is 2,400.)

The test lasts for 2 hours and 10 minutes and includes two sections of critical reading, two sections of math, and one section of writing.

The number of students taking the PSAT—3.5 million —has been very stable for the past five years, said Leslie Sepuka, director of regional communications for the College Board, the New-York based organization that administers the test.

"The PSAT/NMSQT provides an early indication for a student's readiness for college-level work. It also helps to identify students with the potential to succeed in Advanced Placement courses," according to Sepuka.

In December, students get a score report with feedback on their performance. They can view how they did on each question, including an explanation of the correct answers at My College QuickStart, a free, interactive, online tool offered by the College Board. Students enter an access code, set up an account, and then can make an SAT study plan based on their PSAT performance. It also has exercises to help students consider interests, strengths, and potential college majors.

Unlike the SAT, students can't take the PSAT/NMSQT independently at a test center; they must sign up for the PSAT/NMSQT at their high school or at another high school in their community. Students who would like to take the PSAT/NMSQT can contact their high school counselor or principal to find out about registering for the test, paying the fees ($14), and learning the correct date, time, and location. (Fee waivers are available for juniors who qualify based on income. ) Click here to find schools offering the exam and for the student guide, including practice question for the PSAT/NMSQT.

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