What is the PSAT and who takes it?

The PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, while NMSQT stands for National Merit Qualifying Test. Basically you can think of this standardized test as pre-SAT. It is structured in much the same way as the SAT, but the results can qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship. The National Merit Scholarship is given to 8,700 students nationwide and can result in three different awards: the $2,500 National Merit Scholarship, Corporate-sponsored scholarships, or College-sponsored scholarships. Combined, these awards total around $44 million dollars. All of these awards are determined by your PSAT score, so you must take this test to qualify. To qualify for the awards, you must be a high school student, a citizen or lawful permanent resident of US, and take the PSAT during your junior year of high school. 

The PSAT can be taken by 10th graders (PSAT 10) or 11th graders (PSAT/NMSQT). The test is offered in October, and is not always offered at every school. Check with your guidance counselor to determine where to go. The cost could be as much as $15 a student, but some schools may choose to pay part of the fee for their students. Also remember that some students may qualify for a fee waiver. Again, talk to your counselor for more information. 

The test will provide you with an option for “Student Search Service.” Should you choose to opt in to this service, you will be asked several self-reported questions such as expected graduation rate, cumulative GPA, and intended college major. This information, along with contact information, will be sent out to various organizations including institutions. This allows them to contact you with information on their programs along with scholarship opportunities. Opting into this service is up to you, but it will allow you to receive information from many different organizations. 

What will test day be like? What should I bring?

Come to test day relaxed and ready to go. All you will need are two No. 2 pencils with erasers, an approved calculator, and a valid school or government ID (only needed if you are testing somewhere other than your local high school). Do not bring highlighters, pens, colored pencils, smartwatches, dictionaries or any other reference materials. Make sure that your phone is completely turned off during testing. If it buzzes or rings, you will dismissed and your scores not counted. There are three sections to the test: reading, writing and language, and math. 

What are the sections on the test? What should I expect in each section?

The Reading section is 60 minutes and 47 questions. All questions are multiple choice and based on passages provided. The passages may have graphics, tables, or charts. Some questions may ask about how the graphics accompany the text. Other questions may ask you to pick out a statement from the passage while others may explore what is implied by the passage. Finally, some may quiz your vocabulary, asking you to use context clues to determine what is meant by terminology.

Sample Questions from the Reading Section 

The Writing and Language section is 35 minutes and 44 questions. It is set up much the same way as the reading section, with passages and graphics. All questions are still multiple choice. Some questions will have you focus on single sentences, asking you to correct them. Others may ask you to determine how the passage interprets the graphic. Some questions may require you to think about a passage’s organization, identifying ways it could have been done better. Finally, you will be tested on standard English conventions such as proper punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice.

Sample Questions from the Writing and Language Section

The Math section is 70 minutes and 48 questions. The majority of the questions will be multiple choice still, but a small amount of them will be “grid-ins” which require you to shade in numbers for your answer. This section is divided into two parts, a calculator section and a non-calculator section. The key subject areas to be familiar with are algebra, problem solving and data analysis, and some advanced math (geometry, trigonometry, and more advanced equations). This test is designed to determine your understanding and fluency with math concepts, as well as your ability to apply them to various problems.

Sample questions from the math section 

When will I get my scores? What do they mean?

After taking your PSAT, scores will be released around mid-December. They will be made available through the online portal on CollegeBoard’s website. After logging in with your information, you will be able to access your scores. There will be 2 section scores: Evidence based Reading and Writing (combination of writing and reading tests) and Math. In each of these two sections, you can score between 160-760 points. Combined, your total score can be between 320-1520. Your score report will provide you with the benchmark, which provides what score is needed to be on track for college readiness. You will also see a percentile rank, which will show you how you scored compared to other students nationwide in your grade (if you score at the 54th percentile, you did better than 54% of other people your age). There are also sections of your score report that breakdown sub-scores and where to go from here.

Guide to understanding the PSAT Score Report 

You can use your PSAT scores to determine what areas to improve on for future standardized tests. The online portal associated with your PSAT login can be connected to Khan Academy for free, personalized, test prep for the SAT. In the meantime, take advantage of these resources and keep on doing your best! And remember, you can always contact your counselor for more information. 

Guide to the ACT and SAT

Information adapted from https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/inside-the-test