How to Use Your PSAT Score to Create a Winning SAT Strategy

High school students who take the Jan. 26, 2021 Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, should expect to receive their scores by mid-March. PSAT scores range from 320 to 1520 and present an ideal starting point for your SAT study endeavors.

The following four tips can help you translate your PSAT results into an effective SAT review plan:

— Account for differences between the PSAT and SAT.

— Create a review plan immediately.

— Treat hard questions as a bonus.

— Set realistic expectations.

Account for Differences Between the PSAT and SAT

There are several key differences between the PSAT and the SAT. For instance, the PSAT is two hours and 45 minutes long. The SAT, on the other hand, lasts three hours without the optional essay. With the essay, it lasts three hours and 50 minutes. As a result, the SAT requires more focus and stamina than the PSAT.

The essay component, which is entirely absent from the PSAT, requires students to use analytical and rhetorical skills. As you prepare for the SAT, consider both the essay requirements and the overall exam length. This way, if you take the essay, you are neither lacking the proper essay-writing practice nor exhausted on test day.

[Read: What to Know About the Optional SAT Essay.]

Given these differences between the PSAT and the SAT, your approach to studying for the SAT should be cautiously optimistic. It is better to assume that your SAT score will be lower than what the PSAT suggests rather than to be overconfident that your PSAT score will translate directly to your SAT score. The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600 total points

Create a Review Plan Immediately

You should create a study plan for the SAT as soon as possible after reviewing your PSAT score report. The PSAT’s content and format will still be relatively fresh in your mind, and you will still have a rough idea of which question types and sections were most challenging for you.

Score reports are provided for the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10. Carefully look at your score report to determine which questions you consistently answered incorrectly. The College Board provides detailed explanations to help you better understand where and why you could have slipped up, so be sure to read those, as well.

[READ: 3 Things to Know About PSAT Score Reports.]

For a more strategic study approach, try reviewing by question type. For instance, you can start with trigonometry problems, which tend to pop up on both the PSAT and SAT.

Treat Hard Questions as a Bonus

On the SAT Math section, the questions are generally arranged in order of increasing difficulty. On the SAT Reading and Writing & Language sections, however, the questions may be mixed. Luckily, the more you practice, the more quickly you will be able to identify questions by their difficulty level.

When taking practice tests, students should devote most of their efforts to answering easy and medium-difficulty questions first and view the hardest ones as “extra.” Since all questions hold the same point value, students should never spend extra time answering hard questions at the expense of the “low-hanging fruit.”

[Read: What to Know About SAT Prep Classes]

In addition, keep in mind that the most complex SAT questions may not appear on the PSAT. Within each question type, note which SAT practice questions are marked as difficult, since you may not have encountered them on the PSAT. Students with ambitious SAT target scores may benefit the most from practicing with the most challenging question types.

Set Realistic Expectations

Finally, make sure you allow for enough time between the PSAT and the SAT so that your score can notably improve. Taking the tests too close together may result in disappointment.

Be honest with yourself about your target score and the amount of time you can dedicate to your SAT studies. For example, signing up for the March 13, 2021 SAT may not be conducive if you hope to increase your score by 200 points but have limited time to study in January and February.

One general rule to abide by is that each 10-point increase on the SAT necessitates about three hours of intensive study. Therefore, if you wish to increase your score by 100 points, assume that you will need to review for at least 30 hours. Be aware, however, that this number is only a general estimate and will depend on the quality of your study time. An hour of self-study mixed with distractions at home is not equal to a focused hour of study.

Your PSAT score report is an invaluable jumping-off point for your SAT studies. Good luck.

More from U.S. News

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How to Use Your PSAT Score to Create a Winning SAT Strategy originally appeared on

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