Man, what a feeling. You take the PSAT at the start of junior year and have a higher score than almost anybody you know. You’re set, right? In the clear. Don’t even have to worry about the SAT—it’s pretty much the same thing right?
Alright, so this doesn’t happen to everybody. After all, only 10% of students can be in the 90th percentile. That’s how it works. But let’s say this is you, just as it was me: you’ve confirmed that you’re a good test-taker and you know your stuff, and you’re ready to wash your hands of the whole thing.
Stop there. Don’t get cocky; it’s not that simple. Even if you already know everything you need to know about the PSAT vs the SAT, a top score on the PSAT doesn’t guarantee anything. Yes, if you did well, you’ll probably do well on the SAT, too. But it’s not a sure thing, and this isn’t worth gambling over. SAT scores fluctuate, sometimes by a hundred points or more, and the less experience you have with the test, the more likely that there’s going to be some inconsistency.
Besides that, your reach schools might be looking for scores that are already on level with your PSAT score as it is, even if it is high. And if your PSAT scores drop jaws but your goal schools are only modest, then it’s time to start looking at even higher-tier schools: ivy leagues tend to look pretty good on resumes, and you’ve just shown that your test-taking skills, at least, might be up to snuff.
And if you do decide to go for the gold and apply to the best-ranked schools, then you might need to do some serious test prep to seal the deal, rather than gambling based on your PSAT score. Take a look at Harvard SAT scores, for example: 75 percent of students score over 2100. (If we compare that to the PSAT, that’s around a 200 composite score.) The story isn’t so different with Yale SAT scores, either; top schools expect top scores. Are you absolutely certain you’re going to score that high? If you aren’t—and who is?—then yeah, you might want to study for the SAT. It’s a lot of work to take on when you’ve already got classes, extra-curriculars, and a life, but whatever you can make time for is worth it if it brings you closer to your dream school.
All that being said, I want to make it clear that I don’t recommend serious prep for everybody. If you’re absolutely sure that any and every school you want to apply to has average SAT scores much lower than what you’re expecting based on your PSAT, then there are probably other things you should be focusing on. Your test scores are only part of the package, and if they’re already the strongest part by far, then you shouldn’t spend too much time and energy on them, of course.
But be careful not to write those scores off, either.