The Preliminary SAT, which is also called the PSAT/NMSQT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is part of the College Board’s suite of assessments for college preparedness. The PSAT test serves two primary purposes at once: it prepares students for the SAT and is a scholarship opportunity. The format of the test and the questions themselves are what students can expect to find on the SAT. However, the sections are generally a bit shorter in both time allotted and number of questions to answer. The PSAT test is typically taken by students in the fall of their junior year. Local schools administer the PSAT and handle test registration, with the test typically taking place in October. All tests are administered in person and there is no online PSAT test offered by College Board at this time.
PSAT Test Format
The PSAT is created to measure students’ abilities in three areas and is mostly comprised of multiple-choice questions. The PSAT format is designed to prepare students for the SAT and follows the same content. However, most PSAT sections are slightly shorter, in terms of both the number of questions and the time allotted to complete the section. Consequently, 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.
- 60 minutes
- 47 multiple-choice questions
- 5 passages
- 1 literature passage, 1 passage from a US founding document or famous global speech, 1 passage from the social sciences, 2 science passages
- One passage will be a comparison passage, split into two shorter texts that comment on each other
The reading portion of the PSAT will require students to read a published excerpt and occasionally interpret visual data. The questions ask students to locate and interpret important pieces of information within the passage or given information.
Writing & Language
- 35 minutes
- 44 multiple-choice questions
The name of this section is a bit misleading, because students will not do any actual writing. Instead, the PSAT Writing and Language section requires students to edit printed works. This section tests for sentence development, grammar, and the ability to organize a passage effectively. Students will need to be able to recognize problems in prose and then fix them.
- Split into two sections but given one combined score:
- Math with No Calculator
- 25 minutes
- 13 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- Math with Calculator
- 45 minutes
- 27 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- Math with No Calculator
The PSAT math section focuses on problems that are modeled after real-world situations. Many questions consequently require multiple steps, and finding the most effective way to answer them is important. The math section is unique in the PSAT because there are 8 questions, four in each section, that are not multiple choice and require the students to find solutions independently.
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. This is in addition to the traditional October SAT administration. 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.
Inspirica Pros’ Approach to PSAT Test Prep
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 due to the significant overlap between the PSAT and SAT, most of these students then continue on with SAT preparation through the winter of that year.
When it comes to PSAT test prep, we understand that the structure of the test is part of the challenge of the test. It takes more than just memorizing the quadratic formula to ace the PSAT Math section. Typical homework in our PSAT programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps the most important component—timed test sections. This blend of practice will ensure that you’re addressing every element needed to be successful on the PSAT, from content to timing to overall strategy.
Get Started with PSAT Test Prep Today
To learn more about how we can help you prep for the PSAT, schedule a free consultation with one of our Program Coordinators today!