PSAT scores are back — just in time for the holidays!

I’ve had a few frantic phone calls from friends, wanting to know how much an SAT score can improve from the PSAT.

I’ll start with this n-of-1 study:

My son’s junior SAT score went up 590 points from his sophomore PSAT.

Hopefully that will make a lot of you feel better.  He beat the odds, many times over.

According to the College Board, the average PSAT score change from sophomore to junior year is 106 points. My son’s score went up 400 points that year. He started studying in August (i.e. 2.5 months before his junior year PSAT).

The College Board also says that juniors taking the PSAT in October and the SAT the following spring (my son’s plan) will score an average of 55 points higher on the SAT.  My son’s score went up 190 points during that same period.

Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book that describes Ethan’s path to SAT score improvement:

The SAT Hand

We blocked off every Saturday for full, timed practice tests, which Ethan took at the dining-room table while I worked in my basement office just below. At the five-minute breaks he’d bring down the sections he’d finished, and I would correct them while he worked on the next set.

Occasionally, I’d see patterns to his mistakes and I’d peek my head into the dining room.

“Ethan, stop the clock for a second.”

He’d look up attentively. He was serious; he wanted to reach his goal so he could put the test behind him and move on. “You’re rushing at the end of the sections,” I’d tell him. “Pay attention to the questions at the end.” Or: “Read every word in the answer choices.”

“Okay Mom,” he’d say, and go back to work, making a small adjustment here and there.

By April he wanted me to break out the charts I’d made of his scores, the ones he’d cracked jokes about just a few months before. Now he asked me to update the charts to see if he’d made any progress–and he had! We’d collected enough data to be able to see the line moving in the right direction, slowly but unmistakably. That line on the graph was definitely a motivator.

So was the girl who lived down the street. She and Ethan had known each other since they were little, and she was into it, taking those practice tests on the weekends, too. She was a better student than Ethan—in the way girls often tend to be (better organized and more focused)—and the two of them were neck and neck in their practice scores. She also happened to be a competitive tennis player and some of that fierce athletic energy went to the picture, which kept Ethan on his toes because he wanted to beat her.

In the end she beat him, but not by much, and he exceeded his goal by thirty points.

Good enough for Ethan to call it a day and feel good about moving on.

I, on the other hand, wanted him to take another crack at the test because there had been three eleventh-hour snafus, only two of which I can write about, that had to have depressed his scores, I thought.

The first, just a few days before the test, was Ethan’s hand. His left hand, the SAT hand. (Ethan’s a lefty.) He broke his hand horsing around on a soccer field and came home from school needing a cast. I’ve never had a broken bone in my life, and this was probably Ethan’s fifth fracture, and he was only sixteen years old. Only sixteen and taking his second SAT. With a broken hand.

Needless to say, we’d never factored broken SAT hand into our test prep, and although Ethan could move his fingers I was nervous he wouldn’t be able to bubble properly. Meanwhile Ethan was insisting that he take the test as planned, cast and all.

“Let me see you bubble,” I’d say, and he would practice, but I could hear little whimpers of pain as he colored in the circles. He didn’t care. He’d had his standardized test strategy all mapped out for months in advance—the SAT, the AP exam, the SAT Subject Tests—and as far as he was concerned, there was no room in his spring-of-junior year schedule to make any last-minute test-date adjustments. He could have postponed the test till the fall, which is what the College Board told me when I called and tried to persuade them to give my son a personal bubbler as a “special circumstance accommodation.” They said no. The College Board won’t get involved with the medical issues of juniors because the kids can still take the SAT fall of senior year.

The night before the test, I spotted Ethan playing Halo, which I took to be a good sign. I figured if he could work a video game controller, he could bubble.

The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can sign up for a  series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.