Test Readies Students for SATs, National Merit Scholarships


Charlie Spungin

Freshman Reid Waxman takes the PSAT on Oct. 12. The freshman class took the exam in classrooms, while sophomores and juniors took it in the gym.

The freshmen, sophomore and junior classes took the PSAT on Oct. 12. Benjamin has been administering the test for years in order to prepare students for the SAT as well as get a sense of their testing level

According to the Princeton Review, over 3.4 million students across the country take the exam. For juniors, it is particularly important because of its ability to qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship Program if a high enough score is achieved. For freshmen and sophomores, the exam does not lack importance, however.

“It sets a readiness baseline, allowing students and teachers to pinpoint areas for focused practice as students progress through high school,” said Dr. Yates when explaining the value of the PSAT beyond National Merit.

For the freshmen, it was their first experience with standardized testing in the Upper School. The Benjamin Middle School offers ERBs (Educational Records Bureau), which includes questions in reading comprehension, writing concepts and skills, vocabulary, math, and more. While there is a sense of familiarity for some of the freshmen because of this, they still did not expect that the ERBs will have fully prepared them for the PSAT.

“I have experience with standardized testing having taken the ERBs in middle school, but those don’t seem as challenging as the PSATs,” freshman Chase Connor said. “Having never taken the PSAT, I hope to learn the format and get a sense of timing for a standardized test.”

Although the freshman class has not experienced a standardized test the level of the PSAT, that does not mean that they are not prepared. Luckily, the Benjamin curriculum has done enough to get students ready for the exam.

“Our curriculum is designed to teach and practice the skills that students need to be successful on the PSAT across all of the classes,” said Upper School Academic Dean Mrs. Caroline Guzman. “For example, in science and social studies, they are analyzing documents, sources, charts, etc to look at data and trends and draw evidence-supported conclusions. In English and math, our curriculum focuses on the skills and grade-level-appropriate content that our students need to tackle the types of questions and content in each of the sections of the PSAT.”

While testing for the college admissions process has been less emphasized since COVID-19 struck, there still is value in testing scores. The PSAT is the first exposure that students can get to this, and it gives them a good sense of where they stand relative to others nationwide.

“Testing is still very much part of the requirements in the atmosphere of college even though many schools are test-optional,” explained Director of College Counseling Mrs. Anna Wright. “For our students, it helps them know how they’re doing with their reading skills and how they’re doing with their math skills compared to over a million other students.”

The freshmen took exams in specific classrooms, while the sophomores and juniors took the exam in the gym. Student Services Counselor and PSAT Coordinator Dr. Renea Yates explains that everything that goes into getting the school ready for testing is “a team effort.”

“Our facilities team worked hard to set up all the testing locations,” said Dr. Yates. “Our technology team helped with muting the bells and any tech needs. Our administrative assistants helped with ordering necessary materials and ordering lunches. Our nurse assisted with attendance and any unexpected medical concerns. Our learning specialist coordinated all of our accommodations. Our advisors and teachers helped prepare our students prior to the exam and proctor and supervised the exams on testing days.”

Senior Darian Salehi, a National Merit Commended Scholar, recommends that students should do their best on the PSAT, not only because of National Merit opportunities (for juniors), but because it can assist students in selecting which standardized test is best for them.

“I think it’s very important for students to not only put their utmost effort during the PSAT test but to also prepare for the test to the best of their ability because their score will help them decide whether the SAT or the ACT is best for them,” said Salehi, who began studying for the PSAT in September.