photo of a boy in an exam

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a standardized exam intended for high school sophomores or juniors to get a feel for the real SAT. Stellar performance can help students qualify for scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship competition.

Is the PSAT like the SAT?

The PSAT is very similar to the SAT, simply because it is considered practice for the latter. The content, structure, and scoring of the two tests are almost identical:

  • Both tests have Reading/Writing and Math sections. The PSAT however, does not have an optional essay component.
  • The two tests have the exact same question types and content: trigonometry, vocab-in-context, etc.
  • Both tests get harder over the course of a section

The tests, however, are different in their respective lengths:

Reading 47 questions (60 min) 52 questions (65 min)
Writing 44 questions (35 min) 44 questions (35 min)
Non-Calculator Math 17 questions (25 min) 20 questions (25 min)
Calculator Math 31 questions (45 min) 38 questions (55 min)
Total 2 hours 45 mins 3 hours

Because of the difference in lengths, the PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520, compared to the SAT’s scoring from 400-1600.

What’s the National Merit Scholarship Program, and who qualifies?

The top 1% of 11th grade PSAT test takers will likely qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. These students can become Semifinalists (after the National Merit Scholarship Competition application has been filled out) and 7,500 of these students will go on to win scholarship money. The current amount is an annual $2,500 towards college expenses. Semi-finalists are notified of their Finalist status in the February of their senior year, a couple of months after college applications have been sent out.

When and where can I take the PSAT?

Unlike the SAT, which can be taken at numerous test centers and various test dates throughout the year, the PSAT requires registration and actual testing at your own high school and only occurs during the fall. The test typically occurs in October.

This year the test will fall on Wednesday, October 11, 2017; Saturday, October 14, 2017; or Wednesday, October 25, 2017. Your school will determine which date its students may take the PSAT.

How much does the test cost?

The test currently costs $16, but the price is subject to change based on your school. Some schools are able to waive a partial or full amount of the fee, while others have to charge more to pay for extra proctors on test-day. Most schools require payment for the test fee in September, so get in touch with your school’s administration if you have any financial concerns.

Does the test really matter?

The PSAT score will not be necessary to report during the college admissions process. The SAT and ACT are the standardized tests that act as metrics in that process. That said, the PSAT is the avenue through which students may win National Merit scholarships. Doing well on the PSAT can potentially fund a substantial amount of your college tuition bill.