Area high school students spent Wednesday taking the PSAT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), an exam that will help prepare them for college entrance tests they will take later in the year.

The PSAT is given on a national timeframe, so each school system making the test available administers it on the same day and at the same time.

“What it does is it gives students a chance to basically practice what is going to be expected on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) college entrance exam,” Sharon Reeves, instructional supervisor for Glasgow schools, said.

Taking the PSAT is not a requirement, but most schools encourage sophomores and juniors to take it.

The exam tests students in five areas, one of which is a 25-minute section on critical reading. This portion of the exam tests students for reading comprehension, as well as critical thinking, Reeves said.

In addition, there are two 25-minute math sections, one featuring 38 multiple choice questions and another consisting of 10 student conclusions.

New to the test this year is a 30-minute writing section.

“In that they are going to be identifying errors in sentences. It’s going to be 20 sentences that could be improved,” Reeves said. “It could be that the student might be asked to go into further detail, or to make two sentences a compound or more complex sentence.”

Students will also be asked to make improvements to five paragraphs.

Besides allowing students the opportunity to practice for college entrance exams, the PSAT is a tool used to determine Governor’s Scholar candidates, Jane Edwards, guidance counselor at Caverna High School, said, “And it puts them on lists for scholarships and gets them in touch with colleges and universities.”

While some area students are taking the PSAT this week, others are preparing for the ACT (American College Test).

Like the PSAT, the ACT also is given on a national schedule.

Primarily, juniors and seniors take the ACT, but any student can take it beginning at the freshman level, Jill Leftwich, guidance counselor at Barren County High School, said.

Barren County students planning to take the test participated in three preparatory sessions this week, but have been preparing for the exam throughout the school year.

“We provide all of our core teachers with some packets that are sent from ACT and they can integrate those examples into their curriculum,” Leftwich said. “Maybe the last 10 minutes of class they will pull out some examples and work with students throughout the year.”

Students are given the opportunity to take the ACT four times each year, and they can take it each time it is offered, but that is not recommended.

“A lot of people think the more you take it, the higher you will score,” Reeves said. “Actually, that’s not true. ACT recommends that you take the test no more than three times. Normally, a student will do their best the second time they take it.”

The reasoning behind that, she said, is students who take the test a second time tend to feel more comfortable taking it.

Leftwich agrees and said by the time the students take the test a second or third time they’ve had a chance to take upper level classes that will help them answer exam questions better.

“We try to do a lot of promotion on the importance of taking it more than one time,” she said. “For our younger students we try to emphasize that they shouldn’t worry if they don’t make the score they think they should because they haven’t had those courses.”

Another misconception about the exam is that it tests students’ intelligence.

“It tests the knowledge the student has gained from the classes they have taken,” Reeves said. “It is so important for students to take the highest level and most rigorous classes they can because that will determine their success in postsecondary school, whether it be technical school or college.”

In addition, some students think taking easier classes will result in a higher grade point average and therefore increase their chances of getting a scholarship, but Reeves said that also is a misconception.

“Colleges do not put an emphasis on GPA when they are awarding scholarships,” she said.

Instead, they look at students’ ACT scores and take into consideration other factors, such as leadership skills.

“You cannot say you will get a scholarship based on a very high ACT score unless you have a GPA to back it up,” Edwards said.

When awarding academic scholarships, Leftwich said, colleges take into consideration how well students scored on the ACT.

An effort is being made in all three school districts to encourage students to take tougher classes to improve ACT scores.

The ACT will be given to area students on Oct. 22.

For more information about the PSAT visit www.collegeboard.com. For more information about the ACT visit www.act.org.

GINA KINSLOW can be reached at gkinslow@glasgowdailytimes.com or (27)0 678-5171, ext. 230

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