PSAT now made optional for all juniors

High school students given choice on standardized test

This year, PSAT/NMSQT testing was made optional to students at the high school. The PSAT/NMSQT is the preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholar qualifying test for sophomores and juniors in high school. Over 1.5 million students across the U.S take this test in order to prepare for the SAT, as well as gain recognition through the National Merit Scholarship Program.

(Shimana Bose) The cover of a practice PSAT distributed by the Student Support office. The test was made optional for SHS juniors this year.
(Shimana Bose) The cover of a practice PSAT distributed by the Student Support office. The test was made optional for SHS juniors this year.

In previous years, the test was mandatory for all juniors. However, this year, the test was made optional, due to the fact that many juniors are not planning to take the SAT during senior year.

“I think if students are looking to be college bound, … there’s some benefit, but it’s really up to the individual student,” said Bryan Davis, superintendent. “It doesn’t mean that if you’re college bound you have to take it either … I really think it’s up to the student’s choice and preference.”

In the Midwest, most colleges and universities accept ACT scores over SAT scores, and therefore, many students at Shorewood are not planning to take the SAT.

“Primarily students in this region of the country take the ACT, so a lot of our students won’t take the SAT,” said Sarah Johansson, school counselor. “While the PSAT is a practice test for the SAT, if students aren’t going to take the SAT, then it has pretty much no effect on college, unless they happen to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.”

The National Merit Scholarship is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. Out of 1.5 million entrants, only 50,000 become semifinalists and commended students.

“[The National Merit Scholarship] is a scholarship [that] students can qualify for based on their PSAT scores, [and] about 0.5% of students who take the PSAT will qualify for the scholarship [and] a very small number of students will qualify,” Johansson said. “But … in the past few years [we] had students every year who have qualified, and this year we actually have four students who qualified.”

While there may be a possibility of future National Merit Scholars from Shorewood, one major reason the test was made optional this year was to ease the burdens of many students, allowing them to focus on their grades and extracurriculars.

“For students who won’t be taking the SAT, it takes something extra off of their plate, and it lets them go to class and focus on that … [We] give students that option,” Johansson said.

For those students who do not require — or want — an SAT score, making the PSAT optional to them allows more class time, better focus and less stress.

“I like [the school making it optional] because some kids don’t really want to take the PSAT or the SAT at all, and giving them the option of just going to class is better than making them miss class to take a test they don’t even want to take,” said Katie Love, junior. “The colleges I’m looking at don’t require an SAT score submission at all, and I would rather go to class then take a test for four hours.”

On the other hand, the change is not as consequential for the students who are planning to take the SAT, as the option of taking the PSAT is available to them, but not mandatory.

“I don’t know what would be on the SAT, so I thought it would be good practice for when I do take [the SAT],” said Lindsay Campbell, junior. “I would’ve taken it either way.”

Despite the test becoming optional, a large percentage of the junior class still chose to take the test.

“I believe there are about 50 students who decided to take the test … out of 152. [That’s] one-third of the junior class who decided to take the test,” Johansson said.

Following the examples of some nearby high schools, the concept of making the PSAT optional was considered, and this year was finally put into action.

“What some other of the North Shore schools had done was they had started making the PSAT optional,” Johansson said. “Mrs. Norris and I were meeting with some other North Shore counselors, [and] we were talking about the number of tests our students are taking, and the number of times they’re out of class, and discussing the validity and merits of all this testing.”

“While ACT Aspire and ACT testing are all mandated by the state, we felt like PSAT was another test that took students out of class, so we wanted to put the choice in the hands of students and families,” Johansson said.

Many of the students and the administration members reportedly supported this decision.

“Before you could opt out of it, [but] everybody had to take it,” Davis said. “Now it’s an opportunity for students to take it if they want to take it, … and I think it’s good to allow students to have a choice.”

by Shimana Bose

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