The PSAT, PLAN & ACT Aspire
The PSAT is given each October. Most students take it in 11th grade. Some take it in both 10th grade “as practice” and 11th grade “for real”. Only 11th grade PSAT scores count for National Merit Scholarship purposes.
Unlike the SAT and ACT, schools sign up students to take the PSAT, and schools pay the College Board for their students to test.
Though some guidance counselors find PSAT scores helpful, students can learn more about the SAT, and their abilities for the SAT by taking practice SATs instead of PSATs. A tutor’s evaluation of one or two SATs helps far more than the rudimentary computerized evaluation given following a PSAT. (see “limitations of a PSAT report”)
Thus the PSAT is useful for scholarships that come from it, and little else.
Ivy Bound’s suggestion for serious students:
1) Don’t use a PSAT score to assess your SAT prep needs”. A student who might be strong enough to not need ANY prep for the SAT can discern this better by taking a practice SAT, under timed conditions. The College Board makes ten practice SATs available in its publication The Official SAT Study Guide, available at Amazon.com, BN.com or www.collegeboard.org.
2) Don’t wait for a PSAT score to decide whether to prep for the SAT. Rather than waiting until December for the PSAT report, with all its deficiencies, we strongly encourage one or two September or October SAT practice tests, which can be scored instantly. Ivy Bound offers two proctored practice tests, complete with scoring and phone-review sessions, for $150. It is free to Ivy Bound clients, and they can take more than two.
3) If you have a realistic chance for National Merit Scholars recognition, DO prep for the PSAT. That means build proficiency for the Reading, Math and Grammar (Grammar is the main part of the SAT’s “Writing” section). The best way to study for the PSAT is to study for the SAT. * SAT content encompasses PSAT content, and is more available, and can be readily scored to assess progress.
* In October 2015, the PSAT content will be different than that of all prior SATs. The 2015 PSAT presages the “new” 2016 SAT. Thus the best study for it should include all released College Board material for the 2016 SAT.
The PLAN and ACT Aspire
PLAN was a PSAT counterpart used until 2014. PLAN has been replaced from one test to a series of tests that measure students’ knowledge in grades 3 – 10, called ACT Aspire. ACT Aspire markets these tests to schools, which select tests are free for all ages. The tests for grades 9 & 10 are close to the ACTs format. They arescaled from 400 – 499, but ACT Aspire provides a conversion table to the ACTs 0 – 36 scale.
As of now, ACT Aspire is not available to families; instead schools sign up a whole class of students. Aspire does not do career aptitude the way PLAN used to do. Aspire does give schools measures of learning at each grade level. ACT Aspire does NOT have a National Merit equivalent like the PSAT does.