HISD PSAT prep camp aims at creating National Merit Scholars

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Students take a practice SAT at Carnegie Vanguard High School, July 16, 2014.

High school students looking to boost their PSAT scores tested their math and reading skills against peers Monday in a challenging game of fill-in-the-blank-sentences, vocabulary connotations and math problems.

“The game was fun, and it really motivated us to apply the skills and techniques we’ve learned,” said Adrian Moga, a DeBakey High School for Health Professions student participating in a PSAT Camp at Westside High School.

The three-week PSAT test preparation camp, organized by the College Readiness Department in collaboration with Testmasters, is one of eight being held this summer across the district for 200 students as part of a new HISD initiative to increase the number of National Merit Scholars in the district.

The PSAT is a College Board exam given to students in grades 9-11 to measure college readiness. The initiative provides students who scored well on the PSAT in 10th grade a chance to improve their score so they qualify for the prestigious scholarship. Students selected for the camp scored within close range of the qualifying PSAT score for Texas’ class of 2014 National Merit Semifinalists.

Students who score in the 99 percentile range on the PSAT may qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Many colleges, including the University of Houston, offer full-tuition scholarships to National Merit Scholars.

“The camp is really helping me get ready for the math and writing part of the test and for the SAT,” said Westside student Lydia Breedlove. “I need a high SAT score to get into the University of Texas.”

During the camp, students are learning problem solving strategies and vocabulary techniques, including studying the Greek and Latin roots of words and the tones of words and sentences to determine their meaning and context. They will also take a PSAT practice exam as well as practice quizzes on math, reading and vocabulary.

“Not only is vocabulary part of life, it’s a significant part of the exam,” said Testmasters instructor Askari Mohammed. “They can also use the words they’re learning in the essay they have to write for the test. It always looks good when writing a paper to use ‘auspicious’ instead of ‘good.’ As the course goes on, we try to make it more game-oriented, so they won’t forget what they learn, and it’s something different from three hours of instruction every day.”

The HISD College Readiness Department, which held information sessions in May at various schools about the National Merit Scholarship program, anticipates an additional 100 students to register in the fall for the PSAT preparation course valued at around $1,000. Following the course, students and their families will participate in college workshops led by HISD College Readiness staff and receive college counseling on the admissions process.

“Being prepared for the PSAT and doing great on this test opens doors for students in terms of their college options and the scholarships they could receive,” said HISD College Readiness Assistant Superintendent Rick Cruz. “To be recognized as a National Merit Scholar is one of the most prestigious accomplishments. Students need to know if they do well on this test, many opportunities will be available to them, including the chance to attend college for free.”

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