Pressed to Test: Pandemic PSATs Bring Students Back to CCHS

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Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Kaylee Powell, Staff Writer

Many high school students are familiar with the SATs (Scholastic Assessment Tests) and how big of an impact they have on our future, but often forget about their equivalent, the PSATs (Preliminary-SATs). It’s already October, which means Halloween isn’t the only day sneaking up on us. On October 14 for juniors and on October 29 for sophomores, students will be entering the school for the first time since the lockdown on March 13. Due to the pandemic, many questions have been brought up about the upcoming PSATs—and if they’re really worth the effort of preparing and breaking quarantine if many students don’t even know what they are for.

This year, the conditions for the test have changed. While the tests are still being held in school, a lot more precautions are being taken. Only 15 students are allowed in each classroom and those 15 students must wear masks. Usually, each classroom has between 20 and 30 students, so cutting that number nearly in half will mean a lot of people won’t get the chance to take the test. 

Since the number of seats available has been cut back, many students who wanted to take the PSAT are unsure if they can take it this year. Juniors Natalie Ricke and Tabitha McLeod-Jones are both planning on taking the PSATs but are unsure of the logistics. 

Ricke is one of the students in the class of 2022. She didn’t originally plan on taking the PSAT this year but changed her mind due to the opportunities that come with it.  

“I wasn’t going to take it,” said Ricke. “At first, I was just going to take the SAT, but my teacher said it would be good for scholarships, so I signed up to take it this year.” 

McLeod-Jones is another junior at Chamblee. She has been taking the test since ninth grade and doesn’t plan on stopping this year. Though still worried about being out in public during the pandemic, she’s trusting that others will do what is necessary to keep everybody involved safe. 

I don’t really know how to feel about [going into the school],” said McLeod-Jones. “I don’t mind it, but I just want to feel safe and take my practice test.”

Some juniors are removing themselves from the controversy created by the COVID-19 restrictions surrounding the PSATs this year, choosing simply to not take the tests. Zion Shaw and Natalie Sarzen are both in that group of juniors. 

Shaw finds the test unimportant and believes that if it were really important, it would be mandatory like the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) or EOC (End of Course) tests. Shaw has never taken the PSAT and doesn’t plan to. 

I don’t believe that PSAT preparation is a way that would help me [with my SAT],” said Shaw. “For me, I’ll probably get a tutor.

Shaw decided that he didn’t want to take the test even before the pandemic, but the cost and restrictions really sealed the deal for him. 

After all [the information I’ve recieved], I still feel like I could better prepare myself [for the SAT] on my own with self-knowledge or really just using any resources I can find on my own,” Shaw said.

Sarzen used her summer break to take practice tests and found out that the ACT is better suited for her, and therefore sees no need in taking the PSAT to prepare for the SAT, an exam she most likely won’t be taking. 

“The coronavirus did not affect my decision on taking the PSAT because I would not have taken it anyway this year because I am taking the ACT,” said Sarzen.

Even though each student took a different path regarding these exams, none really knew the importance of the PSAT when they took it in previous grades. Many thought the “P” in PSAT stood for “practice” and not “preliminary.” The students interviewed also were unaware there were scholarships available to apply for based on their PSAT scores. Many students reported that they got their information from their parents and not the CCHS administration and  teachers, which means their information may not be completely accurate. 

The most notable scholarship students are vying for is the National Merit Scholarship, a scholarship where selections for semifinalists are made based on academic success on junior-year PSAT scores. 

Samantha McCrery, a current senior who has taken the PSAT four times and the SAT three times, knew the chances of getting the National Merit Scholarship were slim, but she still saw advantages in taking the PSAT. McCrery definitely wanted the practice and confidence that comes with taking the PSAT multiple times, and she is adamant about the PSATs and how they affected her overall SAT testing. 

“[The PSATs] helped me in the beginning with the first and second time [I took them], and then when I took a PSAT, it definitely helped me know what kinds of questions to expect, especially for reading and writing,” said McCrery.

Overall the thought process about the PSAT is different for everyone. Some people may choose not to take it because it’s not their style, some would rather have a tutor, or some would rather take the ACT instead, but there are still a variety of reasons to take the tests, such as the National Merit Scholarship, or to practice for the SAT. Every student’s path is different, but every student, whether taking the PSAT or not, is coping with difficult challenges when it comes to testing during a pandemic.