What is the PSAT?

Hello and welcome to your comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about the PSAT! Whether you’re a junior hoping to qualify for National Merit Scholarships, a sophomore getting a head start on standardized testing, or a younger student familiarizing yourself with the whole process, welcome! We are glad to have you! This guide will cover a lot of frequently asked questions regarding the PSAT: what it is, how it is scored, and what it can do for you! So, without any further ado, let’s get into it!

What do I need to know about the PSAT?

I’m glad you asked! PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholarly Aptitude Test, or Pre-SAT. You can think of it as an official SAT practice test. The question types and content are mostly the same, but it is scored differently and can result in different outcomes. In fact, there’s a few different kinds of PSATs.

PSAT/NMSQT This PSAT has a double function; not only predicting what an SAT score may look like for students, but with a high enough Selection Index (SI), you can qualify for some additional scholarships! (More on this later.) This is the test that high school juniors (11th grade) take.

PSAT 10 This is the official title for the PSAT taken by sophomores in high school. This test is offered in the spring for interested students. Sophomores that are interested in the PSAT/NMSQT their junior year and/or taking the SAT for college applications should take this test to get practice.

PSAT 8/9 The PSAT 8/9 is designed for students in the 8th and 9th grades to get a head start on their testing experience. This test is completely optional, and simply provides insights on one’s strengths and weaknesses. The content is slightly adjusted for the younger audience, but will prove to be challenging for students so they know what to prepare for. This test may prove to be advantageous for early preparation, but will in no way hinder you in your success if you decide not to take it or did not take it.

What topics are on the PSAT?

The PSAT is divided in to 4 parts:

  1. Reading Test 📚
  2. Writing and Language Test 📝
  3. Math Test - Calculator 🧮
  4. Math Test - No Calculator ➗

The math concepts focus on algebra and an overview of upper level math. Reading focuses on overall comprehension, and the Writing and Language section tests your knowledge and application of grammatical concepts. For more detailed explanations on each section, you can check out our Unit Guides!

How is the PSAT scored?

The highest score on the PSAT is a 1520 (as opposed to the SAT’s 1600). Your overall score is the sum of the scores of each section (English + Math).

For example, Student A may earn a 680 on Math and a 560 on English for a total score of 1240. Student B could also have a 1240, but with a 700 on English and a 440 in Math.

For the PSAT/NMSQT, typically administered in mid-October, scores are usually available early-mid December. For any other PSAT (10 or 8/9), you would have to consult your counselor regarding when your score will be available. If you are taking the PSAT in January, check with your school to see when scores will be released.

How do I qualify for a National Merit Scholarship?

Great Question! This has to do with how the test score earned your junior year compares to that of your peers. Your score is transferred into a Selection Index. If your Selection Index is high enough, you qualify for the competition. Then you may advance to become a semifinalist and/or finalist to qualify for different prizes/scholarships.

Your Selection Index is scored using your three test scores (not the scores from the two parts, but raw scores from Reading, Writing, and Math themselves). Add all of those scores and multiply by 2. Your number should be somewhere between 48-228.

Unfortunately, there’s not a magic number that will automatically qualify you for a scholarship. As I mentioned earlier, it depends on how others score, too. Each state has a cutoff (typically anywhere between 209-215). Only the top 1% of test takers will be named Semifinalists (usually around 1600 people nationwide), so to earn this award is a HUGE accomplishment! 🎉

After the semifinal level, approximately 7,600 people will advance to be named Finalists. There are three different types of Merit Scholarships:

  1. One-time Award of $2500
  2. Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards
  3. College Sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards

There are a lot of different factors that determine what kind of award you'd receive. For more information about the program in general, and to gain a better understanding of the different awards, go to https://www.nationalmerit.org.

How do I study?

The best way to study is to just do! Do as many practice tests as you can. This will help expose your weaknesses, give you more practice with question types and pacing, etc.

Check out all of Fiveable's PSAT and SAT resources.

Anything else I need to know?

Don’t worry too much about the number. It seems important now, but everything will work out in the end! If your score isn’t quite as high as you wanted it to be, please don’t beat yourself up. Try again, if you can. If you can’t, you’re allowed to be disappointed, but move on and do some even cooler things, because I’m pretty sure you’re pretty awesome 😉

Now go kill your PSAT! 💪🏾

📝 Find more Fiveable PSAT Resources

📝 Read: Tips on Standardized Testing

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