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They will tear through the thickest stone and crumble the highest mountains in their frantic search for your bountiful mind, suitcases of black leather overflowing with thousands of dollars to lure you into their grand campuses. This scenario does not lend itself to much credibility to rational minds, but it has become a reality, if stripped of its hyperbolic tone, to those who have scored a 220 or higher on the PSAT. A person who earns such a score will receive the attention of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities and will grant them a National Merit scholarship, more than a thousand dollars of free cash, that will help pay for post high-school education. For these reasons, the PSAT has become the most important test in the lives of rising juniors. It is because of its importance that this guide exists, a guide that will help you achieve the 220 needed for instant recognition and success.

The Before – Slacking off is not an option. Preparation is key if you hope to earn the coveted NMS (National Merit Scholarship). This section will provide you with the tools you need to tackle the test head on.

Procrastination is an Unforgiving Mistress – Just a bit of advice-do not, under any circumstances, think you can get away with procrastination. Procrastination is a habit that will destroy any chances of reaching your goal. Instead of waiting one week before the testing date to prepare, reserve two months before test day as pre-test preparation. Create a schedule and plan your attack carefully in as minute detail as possible; after all, the more you can account for the greater the chance you will learn how the succulent juices of a freshly bitten 220 feel in your throat. Make sure to reserve library time in your schedule and talk to your parents and teachers about the nature of the test. They will help you better understand the PSAT. Like Sun Tzu once said, “Know your enemy…and you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles.”

The PSAT Is One Tricky Beast – It may surprise you, but the only things that the PSAT tests are basic math, grammar, and test-taking skills. Don’t let this fool you though – the PSAT is one tricky beast. Millions of grammar and math buffs have made fatally simple mistakes, mistakes that might have been averted had they prepared for the exam’s slippery ways. Never assume your math and grammar skills are good enough – asking both your parents and teachers to help you brush up on your skills will leave you in a better position to grasp that 220.  If you feel that you are no good at either math or English, or both, don’t be afraid to consult with them either – they will help prepare a schedule that will allow you to turn the PSAT into ashes when you encounter it on test day.

Vocabulary? The Horror!!! – Some of the most difficult questions on the PSAT cover unfamiliar and difficult vocabulary terms. Therefore, development an exceptional vocabulary is necessary to get through the grinder without becoming a bloody mess. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, preparing for the word mines that you will encounter on the test has become easier than ever. There exist applications available online for both computers and smart phones which you can use to bring your vocabulary up to SAT standards. Specially crafted novels also exist that can help improve your vocabulary by presenting words in context and defining them at the back of the book. If all else fails, flashcards are your best friends. Just make sure you have a list of the most commonly tested word so that you can make them.

Take the Course – A well designed PSAT preparation course may be the difference between a 220 and a barely passable score. Talk to your councilor to see if there are any plans to set up a small prep course in your school if it doesn’t already have one (large prep courses usually only help you get a better score but do not concentrate on getting a NMS). If there are no plans for a prep-course, searching for a school that does may be your only choice (community colleges usually offer prep courses in-campus or online. It may be worth checking up on them in your area). Prep courses may also offer SAT prep workbooks at a discount, so make sure to find out about that as well.

Hit It Like It’s the SAT – The SAT is very similar to the PSAT, but the SAT is almost two hours longer, its math a bit more difficult, and includes an essay section. Therefore, preparing for the SAT will make the PSAT seem like a freshly baked cake to your eyes. The Princeton Review SAT Prep books provide some of the best information on the Slithery Arachnid-like Test; every trick, every style of questions, and almost every possibility is explained in precise detail, so buying the latest edition provides an indispensible weapon in the war for a 220. In the back of every book you will find a series of full length tests, which can also be found online and in other SAT Prep books. Take these tests in a quiet room where you know you won’t be disturbed and time yourself in every section; you have to take it as if it were the real thing, after all, or you won’t grow. If by now you are not ready to separate the PSAT into its elementary particles, than nothing else on earth will be able to help you.

Ready, Set, Go! – The birds are singing and the sun is smiling a radiant smile, but the sky darkens as you suddenly realize that today is test day! Don’t panic just yet though; help is on its way. This section will explain what you need to do to come out on top after the two hours of tedious torture you will soon be facing.

ZZZZ….What? – Staying up all night to cram for an exam is one of the worst things to don. Cramming night before a test deprives you of essential sleep which adversely affects your performance on the PSAT. Trust in all of the work you have already put forth and lay your head on your pillow, close your eyes, and dream of Duck Hunt with the ducks replaced by PSAT. The morning of the exam, eat a good breakfast and do a quick overview of vocabulary terms, basic math and grammar, and the exam’s slithery ways.

Don’t Forget the Pencil! – The number of students that take the PSAT every year is tremendous, so proctors have long given up on giving a pencil to anyone, so don’t forget to bring several finely sharpened Number 2s with exceptional erasers. PSAT examinations also forbid the use of scratch paper, so do not bring any – it might get you disqualified!

The Use of Electronics is Strictly Prohibited – If you have ever been allowed to use electronics during a test than now is not the time to report your teacher to the principal. Just do not bring any electronics to the PSAT testing site! Your cell phone, your mp3 player, and any other electronic device that you use in your everyday life is not to be taken – you will be disqualified if you do otherwise. So if you are one of those people who, even under threat of death, just cannot let go of their phones, then maybe you should just kiss your chances of a scholarship and college recognition goodbye. You don’t want that now, do you?

Relax! – The minutes right before the test starts is a good time to start relaxing and psyching yourself up. Take deep breaths while imagining yourself at the top of a summit, in the midst of a torrential downpour of money with your face on it, with a trophy of pure gold decorated with precious stones – anything that will make your spirit soar. Just make sure not to hit the ceiling.

The Wandering Eyes – If you feel the need to look around the room, only look at the clock (but only do so sparingly, as it will induce an “I’m running out of time” panic that will eat your time further). If the proctor catches your wandering eyes on a student, he or she will disqualify you, even if you are not cheating. Just concentrate on your test and you will do fine. Also refrain from making much noise as it will earn the disdain of your proctor and just about every student in the room; it is very difficult to concentrate when you have the proctor glaring holes through your head.

Skip and Come Back – Do not spend more than a minute on a single question. If a certain question ends up making you feel like a dunce, skip it and move on. You only need to answer most questions correctly to be eligible for a NMS, but if you feel like you can’t live with yourself, you can always go back. Know how much time has elapsed and how much time remains and use that to decide whether or not you need to move on; it’s a timed test, after all- every second counts.

The Bubble – When taking the PSAT, some students forget that there is a separate Bubble-in-sheet (usually a Scantron) that needs to be filled out. Those students end up with a 60, the lowest score possible on the test, despite hours of hard and arduous work. Do not be one of those people. Fill in your Scantron while you answer the questions on your test. Not only does this keep you mindful of the fact that there is a Scantron, it also saves valuable seconds, seconds which can be used to solve a particularly difficult question towards the end of the section. This method, however, does make it more difficult to change your answer, but with a good eraser, you should have little problem erasing your previous choice. The only other thing you should keep in mind is that you must completely fill in the bubble of your answer choice – not doing so will cost you dearly. If you have time, double check your answers in the section you are currently in and make corrections accordingly (the test does not allow you to leaf through the other sections at will).

Hand It In – After more than two hours of torture, you have finally finished! The great race is over. Now just hand over your test to the proctor and say goodbye to the PSAT – at least until you receive your results in the mail.

The After – The day of reckoning has arrived, and incoherent mutterings about your ultimate failure are flowing like a river from your mouth. Did you slack off or is it that you are usually pessimistic, because if you followed this guide to the letter, then there is no reason why you should be so gloomy. Just shrug off your trepidation and give yourself to the glowing radiance of the open letter! Life will only get better from now on, Nation Merit Scholarship winner!

What Now? – You may be wondering what to do now that you have achieved your goal. You earned, through your hard work and dedication, a NMS, and some universities have even offered their own scholarships. What you do next depends mostly on your interests and personality, your dreams and desires, and your goals and expectations of life. The SAT will prove to be no barrier to you now and you may even decide to take the ACT.  No matter what decide to pursue:  journalism, medicine, law, etc. – only hard work will dictate your success. Many doors have been opened by your excellence on this test but the path you ultimately take in life is up to you. Just remember, many years from now when your teeth have fallen out and heart has slowed to a crawl, that this guide helped you walk it.

Tips, Tricks, and Warnings

  • There will never be more than three consecutive questions with the same answer.
  • This Guide is not for everyone. It is merely a general guide toward success.
  • Even if you think you’ve mastered a concept, practice it some more.
  • Teachers and parents are your best friends. They can help you when this guide proves insufficient
  • Do not stare at your paper when taking the test.
  • Use vocabulary terms in your everyday life to etch them in your mind.
  • The day before the test, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates and protein; it will provide you with energy before the test.
  • Do not drink coffee or energy drinks before the test; if you do not experience a crash, your focus will be blown to smithereens.
  • Exercise regularly; it helps stimulate blood flow and thus makes you think better and faster.
  • Your school will pay the costs of taking the PSAT. If you go to another school to take it though, you will usually have to pay.
  • Don’t study at the cost of your social life.
  • Relax and have fun only after you know you did well (or during break time)
  • Do your victory dance! (no nudity in public, though)