The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, like the SAT, is a creation of the College Board, and it is generally taken by students during the fall of their junior year. The PSAT test format serves as excellent practice and preparation for the SAT. It is also an opportunity for students to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Colleges do not use students’ PSAT scores for the admissions process. Although most students do not complete a course of PSAT test prep, students seeking recognition in the annual National Merit Scholarship competition often spend a month or two prepping for the October test during their junior year in order to maximize their chances for recognition. Local schools administer PSAT registration, unlike the SAT.
The PSAT is comprised of four primarily multiple-choice sections and organized as follows:
- 47 questions divided among five passages
- 60 minutes
Writing & Language
- 44 questions divided among four passages
- 35 minutes
Math No Calculator
- 13 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- 25 minutes
Math with Calculator
- 27 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- 45 minutes
The PSAT format is designed to prepare students for the SAT and follows roughly the same content and structure. However, most PSAT sections are slightly shorter, in terms of both the number of questions and the time allotted to complete the section. Subsequently, the ceiling of question difficulty is a bit lower than on the actual SAT. Our PSAT programs focus on mastering strategies and learning content that will both improve a student’s chances of scoring highly on the PSAT and begin preparing them for the SAT.
You’ll receive a raw score for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the PSAT. This score is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section. No penalty is applied for incorrect answers on the PSAT. Your raw scores for the two Math sections will be added together, producing a single overall Math raw score.
Then, using a process called equating, the PSAT will produce a scaled score from 160 to 760 for Math and from 80 to 380 for each of the other two sections. These scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the sections that you completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed. This process ensures that scores from different versions of the PSAT are comparable.
Finally, your three scaled scores will be added together to produce an overall composite score from 320 to 1520. This score is the best single measure of your performance on the test. This is also the score that will be used to judge your candidacy for a National Merit Scholarship.
National Merit Scholarship
As cosponsor of the test, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and the information students provide on their answer sheets. NMSC then computes a Selection Index score for each student by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores. This Selection Index will appear on your PSAT score report, and it will be used by NMSX to identify program Semifinalists. Each Semifinalist will be notified directly by their high schools. Recognition is determined on a state-by-state basis, with the top 1% in each state qualifying as Semifinalists. Among that group, about 15,000 students move on to become National Merit Finalists and win scholarship money. For complete details on the program, visit the NMSC’s website or talk with your school counselors.
PSAT Registration and Test Dates
The PSAT registration is administered through each student’s high school on dates determined by the school. Generally, this date falls somewhere between October 10 and October 24. There is also a PSAT 10 that is sometimes taken by 10th graders and serves as a warm-up for the PSAT. The PSAT 10 is generally administered in the spring of a student’s sophomore year. The PSAT 10 registration is also administered locally by each school.
Most students will not prepare for the PSAT unless they intended to seek recognition in the National Merit program. Because those students are by definition seeking scores among the top 1% of students in their state, the preparation tends to be highly customized to the needs of each student. Such programs typically begin in the summer before the student’s junior year and run right up to test day itself. And because the significant overlap between the PSAT and SAT, most of these students then continue on with SAT preparation through the winter of that year.
For students who are not sure whether they should be taking the SAT or ACT, we have the answer. Students who take our SAT/ACT PathFinder Diagnostic will get a personalized recommendation on which test is best based on their learning style. The PathFinder is a proprietary test that simulates both the ACT and SAT within one test. We help make test selection easy!
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