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PSAT/NMSQT: What to Expect on Test Day

Simply showing up on test day isn’t enough to do well on the PSAT/NMSQT. You also need to know what to expect. You also need to show up in good shape — calm and ready to take the exam.

What to bring with you

The PSAT/NMSQT rules are quite strict and don’t allow you to bring much with you to the test. You have to leave your book bag, snack, favorite stuffed animal, and tons of other things in your locker or in a designated area. You should have these items with you:

  • A couple of number two pencils and at least one good eraser: Don’t go crazy with the sharpener. You don’t want the pencil point to break the minute you put pressure on it! Also, be sure the eraser is clean — no initials, “I love Herman,” or anything else.

  • A watch, in case you can’t see the room clock: The watch can’t have a timer and it must be quiet. If it beeps, the proctor is allowed to throw you out.

  • An approved calculator: You don’t absolutely have to have a calculator, but sometimes it speeds you through a math problem.

  • Your eligibility letter, if you have one: If you’ve been granted accommodations for special needs, bring the letter saying so.

  • Photo ID and school code: You don’t actually need a photo ID, but if you’re taking the exam in a school you don’t attend, having a photo ID is a good idea. Similarly, the proctor announces only the code of the school where the exam is given.

    If you’re in alien territory, you should know your school’s number, which you must bubble in on the answer sheet. If you don’t, your scores will be reported to the testing site. True, you can call or stop by to retrieve them, but when you enter your own school’s code, your scores are sent there.

    Home-schoolers have their own code. Before test day, check the College Board website or student guide and memorize the number. Your scores and test booklets will be sent to your home address.

  • E-mail address: This is also optional, but useful. The College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation may send you information by e-mail if you write your address on the answer sheet.

  • Your Social Security number or student ID number: These numbers are optional, but they may come in handy. One spot on the answer sheet asks for your student ID number (if your school uses such a system). If you don’t have an ID number, you can substitute your Social Security number.

    These numbers facilitate (make easier) the return of your question booklet after the exam has been scored. Getting your booklet back is important because you can prepare for the SAT by analyzing your PSAT/NMSQT work (for example, calculations you did next to a math problem).

What to do when you get there

Turn around and run away. Just kidding! You’re prepped and ready, so stride (walk with long, quick steps) into the school with confidence. Here’s what you do next:

  • Dump everything you aren’t allowed to have with you. If you’re taking the exam at your own high school, drop your stuff into your locker. If you’re in an unfamiliar school, ask where you can leave extra items.

    To minimize opportunities to cheat, the College Board bans pretty much everything but the items listed here. On test day, travel light! Also, remember to turn off your phone. If it’s in a book bag under your desk when Uncle George calls to wish you luck, the proctor won’t be amused. You’ll be booted from the room and your scores will be canceled.

  • Go to the test room. The proctor will probably keep everyone in the hall until it’s time to begin. Unless the proctor knows you, you may have to show some identification on the way in.

    Try to find a quiet spot, and stay away from anyone talking about the test. In fact, make a pact with your friends to avoid the subject. Why? Because inevitably (surely) you’ll hear a comment that will fire up your nervous system, such as, “I hear 90 percent of the math section is advanced geometry,” or, “I memorized two thirds of the dictionary.”

    First, some of the comments you hear are wrong. (Only 25 to 30 percent of the math is geometry, and much of it is easy.) Second, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has done to prepare. You’re doing exactly what you need to do, right now — learning about the test and practicing for it.

  • Follow the proctor’s directions. In some schools, you fill out the identification part of the answer sheet a day or so before the test. (Great idea! You save a half hour on test day.) In most schools, on the morning of the exam you bubble in your name, address, and other information. Listen carefully to the proctor, and don’t jump ahead.

    You may also choose to answer some optional questions about race, religion, possible college major, and so forth. This information is sent, only with your permission, to colleges interested in contacting prospective students. For example, a school affiliated (closely or officially connected) with a particular religion may send information to test-takers of the same faith.

    Don’t skip Sections 13 and 14 of the answer sheet if you want to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship or a National Achievement Scholarship.

  • Start the test. Of course, you turn to a section only when the proctor announces that you should do so. During the five-minute break between Sections 2 and 3, stretch your muscles, roll your neck around, and think happy thoughts. If you need to use the restroom, ask the proctor. And smile: You’re almost done!

As you exit the exam room, clear your mind of everything related to the PSAT/NMSQT. Remember that you aren’t allowed to talk, tweet, or communicate anything about the questions. (That’s one of the promises you make when you sign your name.)

Plus, you can’t do anything about the results until you see your scores in December. At that point you can make a battle plan for the SAT, or, if you plan to take the PSAT/NMSQT again, for that test.

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