In October high school sophomores and juniors across the United States take the PSAT test to qualify for National merit Scholarship recognition. In December, the scores and test booklets are sent to the school and student with scores for the three sections - Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing Skills - that include percentiles (you scored higher than XX% of the other sophomores (or juniors) who took the test this year. The student also gets a percentile score comparing his or her performance with college-bound juniors, which is pretty cool if you are only a sophomore and out scoring many juniors.
The most helpful section is a section at the bottom of the report called "Improve your Skills," which reflects questions the student missed and lists exact skills each student needs to improve in each section of the test, with ideas of things they can do to improve those skills before taking the test again next year. Finally, each student can go to www.collegeboard.com/quickstart to get a free college planning kit, see questions and answer explanations, compare their own performance to the performance of other teens in their state, explore colleges majors and careers, and get a personalized SAT study plan.
I have to admit this makes the whole "let's start to talk about college," discussion easier, although no less scary. I want to encourage all parents of high school frosh or sophomores to talk with their son or daughter about taking the test as a sophomore, when it does not matter, as practice. If a teen does well, it is a confidence booster, and if s/he does not, they get a personalized study plan to improve the scores next year - it is really a win-win situation.
I think earlier this year I might have been a little resistant to getting a sophomore thinking about college in such a competitive way, but now I am glad our school registered her. There is no backing out though - the students are already marching down the path! College here we come!