What You Need to Know About the PSAT

Students sitting in an exam hall doing an exam in university

Every fall, over three million students take the PSAT/NMSQT. Students qualify for the National Merit Scholarship during their junior year, but are also eligible to sit for a practice PSAT as sophomores. Is this test included in the college application process? No. Does this test help you practice for the SAT? Yes. How will my PSAT score impact my future? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that question, but first we need to answer the basics.

What is the PSAT/NMSQT?

PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT and NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The format of the test is very similar to the SAT, except that it is shorter and the math sections don’t include third-year level problems. Taking the PSAT during your junior year can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship. Every year, approximately 7,500 students who score in the top 99th percentile in their state receive $2,500 or more in scholarship money toward college tuition.

Qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship is an excellent achievement that looks great on college applications, and can qualify you for other scholarship opportunities. For those of you who are on the fence about taking the PSAT, you should consider taking the test for the chance to win scholarship money and practice for the real SAT.

What to Expect

The PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes long with three sections: Evidence-Based Reading, Writing & Language, and Math. The Evidence-Based Reading section contains 5 passages and 47 questions, with 60 minutes to complete this section. The Writing & Language section covers 45 questions and lasts for 35 minutes. The Math section is 70 minutes long and contains 47 questions. For the first 25 minutes of the Math section, you are not allowed to use a calculator to answer the questions. You are allowed to use a calculator for the remaining 45 minutes of the section.

Here’s a table that lays out the PSAT sections more clearly:


Your PSAT Score

When you finish taking the PSAT, you’ll receive a score report online in December and on paper in January. Your PSAT score will fall between 320 to 1520. This range of scores is 80 points lower than the SAT score range (400 to 1600) because the PSAT is easier in comparison to the SAT. Your score report will contain information about your percentile (how well you did in comparison to everyone else who took the test) and your National Merit Selection Index (a number between 48-228 that determines whether or not you are eligible for National Merit recognition). This information will give you an idea about how you’ll perform on the SAT and how you compare to your peers.

Should You Take the PSAT?

Taking the PSAT is as close as you’ll get to the experience of taking the real SAT because it takes place in a similar test environment and contains the same types of questions. It’s the best way to determine how you’ll perform on the SAT in comparison to your peers because over three million students take the test on the same day. Not only will you get information about how prepared you are for the SAT, but you’ll also be able to qualify for scholarships and National Merit recognition.

Here at Ready4, we’re confident you can do well on the PSAT, especially if you prepare with our free Ready4 PSAT app. Good luck on the PSAT!

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