The Top 5 ways Pleasanton Students Can Increase Their PSAT Scores

The Top 5 ways Pleasanton Students Can Increase Their PSAT Scores

The Top 5 Ways Pleasanton Students Can Increase Their PSAT Scores

It’s October of their junior year. Your student is totally engrossed in their daily grind at Amador or Foothill, frantically trying to keep up with all their APUSH homework and Spanish verb tenses. Then, one day, they come home with this reminder that they’re signed up for the PSAT next week and “OMG Mom/Dad, I haven’t even started studying, what am I going to do?!” Cue full on panic; this is definitely the OPPOSITE of what you’d like to have happen.

“But wait,” you think, “why is the PSAT even important? Isn’t it their SAT scores that they submit on their college apps?” The PSAT is a practice run for the SAT – it tells you and your student how well prepared they are for the SAT. That’s why they can take it once each year, as early as 8th grade.

However, it IS very important when they get to 11th grade, because then the PSAT becomes something more – the PSAT/NMSQT. Those extra letters stand for the “National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”. The National Merit competition is a chance for students who score very well on the PSAT to potentially win thousands of dollars towards their college education. Trust me: as someone who benefited from a National Merit Scholarship that covered over half of my university costs, I can tell you that their junior PSAT score can really pay off!

With that tantalizing possibility on the table, I know that you want to make sure your Pleasanton high schooler can succeed on the PSAT. That’s why I’m sharing with you 5 steps you can take to help your student increase their PSAT score.


1. Start Early – But Not TOO Early


For any standardized test prep, we at Pleasanton Tutoring generally recommend starting around 6-8 weeks before the exam date. This gives your student time to feel out their strengths and weaknesses, so they can focus on improving problem areas.

“6-8 weeks? That doesn’t sound like nearly enough!” Well, they can choose to start earlier than 8 weeks, but I personally would caution against anymore than maybe 10. Once you go beyond that point, students’ retention for test content, strategies, and pacing declines dramatically. Furthermore, they risk getting burned out by too much test prep. Staying within the 6-8 week range keeps them fresh for the test and helps them focus.

This time frame is also great if you do want to get your student one-on-one PSAT tutoring – their tutor has adequate time to go in depth to address your student’s needs. Give us a call at 925-353-2832 to get your expert PSAT tutor today.


2. Identify Areas of Need


Ideally, by the time your student is heading into 11th grade, they will have already taken at least one PSAT. If they have, their score report can be a great starting point to hone in on whether they need more verbal and/or mathematical prep. The College Board (the organization that administers the PSAT) has a handy page to help you understand that score report.

However, whether or not your student has taken a PSAT, they will undoubtedly benefit from taking a practice test now. Pleasanton Tutoring offers monthly proctored practice exams for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. They’re on Saturdays from 9am-1pm, and your student will get a chance to practice the PSAT as if it was the real deal (see upcoming dates here!).

Your student’s not free on Saturdays? No worries. We can also send you a practice PSAT they can take at home. Once they submit their answers online, you will receive an instant, detailed score report that will show you and your student EXACTLY what concepts are giving them any trouble.


3. Get Great Prep Materials

Once your student has taken a practice test to find out where they stand, it’s time to get the materials for studying. Here at Pleasanton Tutoring, our go-to book for PSAT prep is from the Princeton Review – “Cracking the PSAT”. We prefer this one to the MANY others out there because the strategies and recommendations are the easiest to understand and use. Plus, we know from experience that they work!

Don’t want to use that book? No problem: you can access many PSAT study materials for FREE through the Pleasanton Library. If you go to the Information Services desk, the librarians can direct you to both physical and online test prep materials. They have resources available to Pleasanton high school students that include practice tests, test-taking strategies, and more – you can find a few of those resources here.


4. Pick a Perfect Study Spot


More likely than not, your student does most of their homework and studying at home. That’s probably the most comfortable place for them, but for PSAT prep, it can help them to change it up by moving to a new environment that will put them in a fresh mindset.

If your student doesn’t already study or meet with their tutor at the Pleasanton Library, you may not know how awesome it is! There are many nice tables and quiet areas to choose from. Still worried the noise level might be too much? No worries, they can book a private study room FREE of charge. Just head to the Member Services desk and check to see if any of the study rooms are available. If one is, they’re able to stay for up to three hours. Please note they must check in person on the day that they’d like to study there (no reservations in advance).

If the library’s not your student’s scene, there are many other options for getting them in the studying zone. The Inklings coffee shop in the heart of downtown Pleasanton is a favorite of many of our students and tutors. Any of the Peet’s or Starbucks sprinkled around town are also fantastic study spots.


5. DON’T Overdo It


Remember, the PSAT is just one stepping stone on your student’s path to the college or university of their dreams. Yes, they should definitely study and prepare as best as they can, but it is possible to overdo it and end up making themselves too stressed out to do well.

They should pace themselves when it comes to PSAT prep, just like they should in any other aspect of their life. As mentioned already, they should start 6-8 weeks before the exam. This gives them room to space out their prep so they can also have time to dedicate to their schoolwork and extracurriculars, which are important in getting them ready to apply to college.

There will be a much higher pay-off in terms of score if they practice a little bit every day or at least every other day. For example, in just ten or fifteen minutes, they can practice through one full passage in the reading section. Spreading out their study sessions over time should improve their scores and help reduce any test anxiety that they may have.


Going Forward


I know that the PSAT may be daunting for some students and their parents, so I hope you found these recommendations to be a helpful starting point for getting your student ready. However, these are just a few important suggestions to keep in mind for your student’s PSAT – we can always help point you in the right direction to address your student’s individual needs.

If you have any questions or you want to find out more about PSAT prep with Pleasanton Tutoring, please leave a comment below or call us at 925-353-2832. We’d love to hear from you!

Hannah N

Hannah N

Tutoring Subjects: PSAT, SAT Mastery Class, ACT, College Admissions, English/Language Arts, Math, French

College Degrees: BA in International Studies, BA in French from the University of Oklahoma

Unique Fact: When I’m not tutoring, you can probably find me rereading a Harry Potter book. True love lasts a lifetime!

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5 Test Anxiety Resources

Some students may occasionally experience mild test anxiety that can affect their academic performance. We see this most often when there is a trend that students do well on homework and feel prepared going into exams, but then feel anxiety during test time and receive lower scores as a result. Here are a few ideas to help your student overcome anxiety and have a sense of confidence and peace during tests:

  1. Check out Youtube for some great test anxiety meditations. Student should listen to these recordings at least twice a day for 2 weeks to see results. Here is one we like:
  2. There are also a large number of great apps available on android and apple phones. If you do a search in Google, search for “test anxiety apps” and you’ll find highly-rated apps ready to download for easy listening.
  3. Breathe in, breath out. Breathing techniques are the easiest way to help mild test anxiety. Here is one we love:
    • Sit comfortably.
    • Take a long, deep breath and exhale it slowly while saying the word “relax” silently.
    • Close your eyes.
    • Let yourself take ten natural, easy breaths. Count down with each exhale, starting with “ten.”
    • This time, while you are breathing comfortably, notice any tensions, perhaps in your jaw or forehead or stomach. Imagine those tensions loosening.
    • When you reach “one,” open your eyes again.
  4. Do timed practice exams at home to simulate the testing environment. Timed practice tests help students get a sense of familiarity with the test questions, the time limitation (vs homework which is done at a relaxing pace), and feel more confident for in-class tests because they “have done this before.”
  5. Consult a therapist for moderate to severe test anxiety. Moderate-severe levels of test anxiety can have underlying causes that may need to be addressed. There are several great therapists in the Tri-Valley area that help with test anxiety.

Want to find a tutor to help prepare for exams? Call us today at 925-353-2832 or

Top 6 Ways to Improve your SAT or ACT Scores

Parents often ask us for advice about how to improve SAT or ACT scores. We have compiled 6 top ways to help your student reach their maximum potential score.

  1. Limit extracurricular activities the day before the exam. All SAT and ACT tests are on Saturdays, and we strongly advise students to limit all activities the Friday before the exam that could affect stress, their sleep schedule, or ability to review/focus on SAT/ACT material. Skip sports games, movies with friends, and late-night social media and watch scores go up, up and up.
  2. Register for at least 2 official exams in a row. A common mistake is to put all eggs in 1 basket (basket = test). Registering for at least 2 back-to-back official exams helps to alleviate test anxiety and pressure to succeed. We see a strong trend that students naturally experience a higher score on their second official attempt.. even if they haven’t done much studying between tests.
  3. Take practice exams. Practice tests allow students to familiarize themselves with the standardized exam questions, as well as identify areas that need fine-tuning. There is, however, a distinct limit to how much this can help. We have found that 3-5 practice tests are ideal. More than this can have no significant impact, other than burning out interest and enthusiasm. We offer both proctored practice exams as well as convenient at-home tests (See link below for dates/info).
  4. The necessary evil.. Homework! Too often, students think that tutoring or prep classes alone should 100% prepare them for official tests. But this is not the case. Practice helps students reinforce concepts, discover pacing goals, and work through weak areas to improve scores. Expect to spend approximately 2 hours on homework after each prep class or tutoring session.
  5. Preparation. Whether your student chooses our Mastery Prep Class or 1-on-1 tutoring, preparation is the #1 key to success and has a huge impact on overall scores. Standardized tests can be written in a format and style that appears like a foreign language, so it is important for students to “learn the language” and feel comfortable with the material.
  6. Start your prep 6-8 weeks before your first official exam. As an example, if your first official exam is October 1st, start preparation around the beginning of August. The reason for this is simple – students don’t typically retain material longer than 2 months.


Want to learn more about SAT and ACT Prep options? Click here for more information. 

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