Using PSAT Results Effectively

Well, due to end of semester chaos and the holidays, I have neglected my blog.  One of my many New Year’s resolutions is to keep up with it better and I have several posts that I think will be helpful to those of you seeking to build and improve your Advanced Placement programs.  In this first post for 2010, I am going to discuss some of the ways you can make use of your PSAT results which should have arrived on your campus just before the holidays.

My district chose several years ago to begin testing ALL sophomore and juniors (at district expense) during the school day instead of relying on those who chose to pay and show up for the Saturday testing.  This has given us a much bigger data set to work with, but the items I will discuss would work no matter how your school/district chooses to test.

  • AP Potential If you are unfamiliar with this, you are really missing out on a great way to build your AP program.  On the huge score report sent to the school there is an access code.  You need to go to the College Board website educators’ tab and then find the area devoted to PSAT.  This is really easy to use and there are some great tutorials there to walk you through it the first time.  Every counselor and AP teacher should know how this works.  Basically, you can choose any AP course, set a probability of success and the software will generate a list of students who are likely to be successful in that AP course.  An English teacher I worked with generated a list of kids and then compared that to the kids who had registered for AP English.  For all of the kids who had not already registered, she used the software to generate a personalized letter explaining their likelihood of success in her class and then met with those kids individually asking them to give her their permission to change their schedule from regular English to AP English.  She then took the list to the counselors and asked that their schedules be changed to include AP English.  She was able to generate an additional 30 students for her AP class!  Think of how meaningful it was for kids who never saw themselves as AP students to have a teacher show up saying “I have data that tells me you are very likely to be successful in my class and I would love to have you!”  Some classes are easier to recruit for using AP Potential than others because they don’t really have prerequisite coursework.  When we generated a list of juniors likely to be successful in AB Calculus, many were currently taking Algebra 2 and needed the prerequisite Pre-Calculus course.  In the letter we sent to them, we explained the option of taking a special summer Pre-Calculus course designed to prepare them for AB Calculus as seniors.
  • Summary of Answer and Skills This is another really easy to use tool that is accessed through and the access code is again on the huge score report usually sent to the counselor in charge of PSAT testing.  This report gives you information comparing your students’ performance to a statistically similar group of students for each item on the PSAT.  You get some nice graphs showing if your kids performed as well as, much better than or much worse than the average.  It doesn’t matter if an item is hard or easy since if it’s hard everyone will do poorly and if easy, then everyone will do great.  You learn a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of your curriculum and instruction by seeing where you kids differ greatly from the average.  (Remember that your kids are only being compared to a statistically similar group of kids so that demographics should not skew the results.)  For example, our kids rocked the geometry items because we have some really great and experienced geometry teachers.  On the other hand, we totally blew the statistics items.  That told us that we were not doing enough statistics in our high school classes (though the kids had gotten a strong dose in middle school, we were not really following up in any meaningful way.)  We then designed some teacher training to familiarize teachers with some easy ways to pull more statistics into what they were currently teaching.  The next year, the SOAS report indicated that what we had done had paid off in terms of student performance.  Our next vertical team meeting will be devoted to an analysis of the SOAS report and the corresponding PSAT items.  We hope to identify holes in our curriculum as well as effective instructional practices to address any weaknesses we find.  Of course, we will celebrate our areas of strength as well!
  • College Quickstart/MyRoad This tool is really designed for student use, but our teachers have an important role to play in getting this to happen.  Every teacher and counselor needs to be familiar with this tool because it is just super cool and a great benefit to kids.  It allows them to examine and learn from the errors they made on PSAT in order to better prepare for the SAT.  It allows them to conduct college and career searches and build a portfolio that will help them plan their future.  I wish I had something like this about 30 years ago!  Our English teachers will work with our counselors to begin the process.  They will take their classes to the computer lab to learn how to log on and establish a password.  At the first session, they will examine their performance on the verbal and writing portions of the test.  The math teachers are then responsible for taking their classes to the computer lab to log on again in order to examine and improve their math performance.  Each kid is using their specific results so one kid might be reviewing geometry while the next one works on algebra problems and someone else focuses on word problems.  This is sure to improve performance on our state math exam as well!  The science teachers then take the kids to the lab for one day to use the college search feature and finally the social studies teachers use one day to have the kids do the career search and investigation feature.   Once the students have learned the basics of how this tool works, we hope they will continue to log on during their own time to continue learning from their PSAT results and eventually even take the practice SAT test that is provided for FREE.
  • National Merit Possibilities Another way that we use our PSAT results is that we identify high scoring sophomores who we think have National Merit possibility.  We then invite these students and their parents to a breakfast and explain the National Merit Scholarship process to them and give them suggestions for how they might work to improve their scores during the summer between sophomore and junior years.  We often have the parent of a National Merit winner come and tell the other parents how much money their child saved them by doing well on the PSAT as a junior.  This certainly gets everyone’s attention!  We look especially hard to find minority students who might be identified as National Achievement winners or through the National Hispanic program.  Many of those students in our school are first generation college students who know very little about the entire National Merit Program.    We have this meeting in the morning before school starts and as the parents are on their way to work.  We provide muffins, coffee and juice as well as a CD-rom with PSAT practice problems on it.  We have sometimes been able to have a drawing to give away SAT practice books from the College Board.  We distribute flyers with suggested ways to improve performance and websites that offer free PSAT/SAT prep.  We believe this effort is paying off since we had a bumper crop of National Merit winners this past year.

I hope that some of what I have written will give you ideas and make you think about how you are using your PSAT results.  Everything that I am talking about is FREE or very inexpensive.  I am looking forward to your comments.  Thanks again for reading.  My next post (next week) will be about our AP Scholar Breakfast.  Please tune in again!


One Response to “Using PSAT Results Effectively”

  1. C. Hart Says:

    This is the first time I have read your blog. It is well written and very informative. I took the time to read all the previous posts. I spent my lunch time with the AP Potential predictors and found them most useful. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

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