I work with a number of families that are very concerned about preparing for the PSAT. This year there is additional concern because the format has changed in anticipation of the new SAT going into effect in March 2016. The October 2015 PSAT will be using the format for the new SAT.
But, the real question, regardless of format, is whether the PSAT is important to you?
For most students, the answer is a clear NO.
The results of the PSAT are not used in college admissions. Most selective colleges do not care if you are a National Merit Scholar or not. What they care about is how did you do on the actual SAT. Or the ACT.
I have worked with many students that didn’t do well on the PSAT or at least not well enough to be considered for a National Merit Finalist position. And guess what? They have done just fine getting into BS/MD programs and other highly selective colleges. And I’m talking about programs like Northwestern’s HPME and Brown’s PLME.
Parents often want their student to do well on the PSAT to have the chance at earning a National Merit Scholarship. That is fine but it should be understood that not all National Merit finalists get a scholarship. And most of the scholarships are only for $2,500 a year. Better than nothing to be sure but a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of most of these colleges.
The students for whom earning National Merit status can be important are those students that are considering less selective colleges. Some colleges for example, will give significant money to students just based on their status as National Merit finalists.
On the other hand, most of these students would likely have received significant merit based money just based on their grades and high test scores on the SAT or ACT even if they hadn’t scored well on the PSAT.
If you are willing to look past the name of the college when deciding where to attend, doing well on the PSAT may help you. But, if you are like most students, doing well in school and on the SAT or ACT will most likely help you just as much financial as doing well on the PSAT.