Ask college-bound high school graduates to reflect upon the biggest challenges of their junior and senior years, and they’ll likely remember the Preliminary SAT and the even more challenging SAT. Most of the time, students go into the testing room not knowing what to expect. However, you can prepare for these tests in more ways than just hitting the books extra hard.

Three times a year, University of Houston-Clear Lake offers a combined PSAT and SAT preparation course through the university’s Center for Executive Education. These courses offer hands-on training with challenges, activities and timed exercises to help students approach these tests with confidence. Scoring well on those tests is as much about research and strategy as it is about actual scholastic aptitude, say Brenda Guerrero, the center’s events assistant, and Jennifer Ledwith, a center instructor who teaches PSAT preparation courses.

Ledwith and Guerrero share some of their insights about how high school students can successfully surmount those “insurmountable” standardized tests and gain admission to the college of their choice.

Tips for prevailing over the PSATs

“I remind students that PSAT scores don’t play a role in college admission,” Ledwith said. “The main purpose of the PSATs is to identify students who are eligible for merit-based scholarships. But since the PSAT and SAT are so similar, I strongly encourage students to take both, but the sooner you start planning, the more successful you can be.”

Ledwith’s additional suggestions:

  • Foundational knowledge across time yields much greater benefits than any test-preparation course. Excellent reading comprehension skills are the key to overall academic success. Being a prolific reader is not just about learning good grammar and usage – it’s about developing exactly the critical thinking skills you need to achieve high scores.
  • If you’re in a gifted-and-talented program at your middle school, start planning your high school schedule now. If it’s possible to take geometry as a freshman and advanced algebra as a sophomore, you’ll be better prepared for the PSAT.
  • Remember that the PSAT is just one day. If you do not score well as a freshman, don’t get discouraged because you will have at least two more opportunities to retake the test. Speak with your counselor and register for a PSAT test preparation course to help you build your confidence.

Tips for surmounting the SATs

The most useful strategy isn’t about practicing your essay-writing skills and boning up on math concepts. “It’s important to do plenty of research about the admissions process of each of

the colleges to which you plan to apply,” Guerrero said. “Decide on your objectives and list the colleges you are interested in after studying their admissions requirements.”

Guerrero suggests students investigate these key questions:

  • What exactly does your college require in order to gain admission?
  • Study scholarship requirements closely. They vary from college to college, and private schools’ requirements are often very different from state schools.
  • Find out if your chosen colleges accept “superscores.” If you’ve taken the SATs multiple times, some colleges will allow you to submit your highest verbal and math scores from all the tests – your “superscores.” Others require you to submit the scores you made on just one test. University of Houston-Clear Lake does not accept superscores, but researching the other colleges you’re applying to will tell you if you can use this strategy to increase your chances for admission.

Not all SAT prep courses are alike. Evaluate your options.

  • Take SAT preparation courses that are well-structured and target the math and vocabulary strategies that you might have missed in class. Your course should measure your progress from the first day to the last session.
  • Use College Board practice exams to become used to the structure of the test. Review the answers and figure out your mistakes.

“Remember that your SAT scores are not necessarily the deciding factor when colleges are evaluating your application,” Ledwith said.  “Many colleges are taking a holistic view, considering all the elements of the application and weighing them more equally.”

When you’re researching your chosen college, speak to an adviser and find out the role standardized test scores play in the admissions process. Stay positive and keep investigating your colleges. When you’ve got all the information to weigh your options, you’ll be able to make the best choice for you.

For more information about UHCL’s college test preparation courses, visit

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