The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT is a great primer for the SAT, and even the ACT, but it’s more than just a trial run. PSAT scores are used to identify National Merit Scholars and award merit scholarships. More than 3.4 million high school students (mostly juniors and sophomores) take this nationwide, multiple-choice test every year.
PSAT Quick Facts
|Duration||2 hours, 45 minutes|
|Sections||Math, Evidence-Based Reading & Writing|
|Cost||Fees are paid by schools|
What is the PSAT and why is it important?
The PSAT won’t count towards your college admissions applications, but it is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. Some of the highest scoring students may win scholarship money, so while you shouldn’t stress out about the PSAT, you certainly shouldn’t ignore it either. Use the PSAT as practice for the SAT and ACT and an important guidepost on your college admissions journey.
When is the PSAT?
The PSAT is offered nationally every year in October. Ask your school counselor about when your class is scheduled to take the PSAT. View upcoming PSAT test dates.
What does the PSAT test?
The PSAT has two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. You’ll encounter passage-based questions—sometimes accompanied by tables, graphs, and charts—and math problems drawing upon algebra, geometry, and a little trig.
Learn about the 2015 changes to the PSAT.
How is the PSAT scored?
Each section is scored on a scale of 160–760, making a “perfect” score 1520. There are also test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. Find out more about PSAT scoring.
Did I get a good PSAT score?
Good question. The highest scores and percentiles earn National Merit Recognition. But PSAT scores are also useful in determining your best prep strategies for the SAT or ACT. For a PSAT score report consultation, call us at 800-2REVIEW.
How do I register for the PSAT?
Check with a counselor at your school or at a school in your community to sign up.
How should I prepare for the PSAT?
The PSAT and SAT tests are almost identical: the PSAT is 15 minutes shorter, does not include an essay, and has a slightly different scoring scale. By prepping for the SAT, you are prepping for both tests! For a limited time, get our PSAT prep (a $299 value) for free when you enroll in a comprehensive SAT course or tutoring program. Learn more today.
If you're a high school student planning on taking the PSAT, you'll be taking the new and redesigned PSAT. This new version of the test started in October 2015 was administered to all students across the country.
We’ll let you know all about the PSAT format, scoring, and content and what you need to know to be prepared. Not only is the 2015 PSAT an important step in prepping for the SATs, but it also qualifies you for National Merit distinctions and scholarships.
Let’s dive into the changes in format, scoring, and content being made to the redesigned PSAT and what these changes mean for your test prep.
Changes in Format
The new, redesigned PSAT is 35 minutes longer than the old PSAT. It clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, rather than 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Instead of five multiple-choice answers, the PSAT now offers only four. This means you have a better chance of getting the answer right if you guess!
The following chart breaks down the time and number of questions per section:
|Section||Time||Number of Questions|
|Reading||60 minutes||48 questions|
|Writing and Language||35 minutes||44 questions|
|Math||70 minutes||47 questions|
|Total||165 minutes||139 questions|
What Format Changes in the New PSAT Mean for Your Prep
The new test is longer, so train your focus. Since the test is still pretty new, there aren't a lot of official practice tests to take. So far, College Board has come out with two official sample PSATs, which you can download and score. Make sure to take note of the changes between this test and older versions.
New PSAT Practice Test 1 - Answer Explanations - Score Your Test
New PSAT Practice Test 2 - Answer Explanations - Score Your Test
Since having only two practice tests gives you limited options, it's also a good idea to use older practice tests. If you are practicing with full-length old practice tests, give yourself an extra section to practice test-taking for that longer chunk of time. As you practice, take note of your energy and attention. Take short breaks and anything else you need to keep focus for that amount of time.
The new PSAT also closely resembles the new SAT, which was first administered in March of 2016. Except for the fact that the PSAT doesn't have an essay, the two tests have very similar content, format, and even scoring. Because of this, you can also use these eight practice tests for the new SAT to prep, while still keeping an eye out for any differences between the new PSAT and new SAT.
New SAT Practice Test 1 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 2 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 3 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 4 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 5 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 6 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 7 - Answer Key
New SAT Practice Test 8 - Answer Key
The new scoring system on the PSAT is designed to help you predict your SAT score. Below I'll explain the changes in the scoring system for both the new PSAT and new SAT and how you can incorporate this awareness into your studying.
Changes in Scoring
The redesigned PSAT is scored on a scaled between 320 and 1520. You can score on a range from 160 to 760 for math and 160 to 760 for Reading and Writing. In addition to these section scores, your score report will also tell you subscores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language between 8 and 38. This will give you a sense of which sections you're best at and where you need improvement. Unlike the old PSAT, the redesigned PSAT gives no penalties for wrong answers.
The SAT returned to the 1600 scoring system it used back in the day, before 2005. It now has a maximum composite score of 800 for Math and 800 for Critical Reading and Writing combined. As I mentioned above, your PSAT score is meant to predict your SAT score.
The PSAT scale doesn't go up to 1600 exactly since the SAT is a more difficult test than the PSAT. While a 1300 on the PSAT suggests you might score around a 1300 on the SAT, a perfect PSAT score doesn't necessarily guarantee perfection on the SAT.
The two scoring scales coincide with one another, but the PSAT is shifted down to account for its differences in difficulty level. Keep this discrepancy in mind when interpreting your PSAT scores from your practice tests and the official test itself.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
What Scoring Changes in the Redesigned PSAT Mean for Your Prep
Because they eliminated the wrong answer penalty, you don’t have to devise a strategy anymore for which questions to guess on and which to leave blank. Give all of them your best guess, even if you are unsure. If you leave any blank, save enough time at the end of each section to bubble in all your answers.
When you’re taking a practice test, make sure to mark which ones are random guesses so you can review them when you’re finished. To make the most out of your practice tests, you want to really analyze why you missed a question and what you need to do - review content, work at a faster pace, etc. - to ace that question type the next time.
Since the National Merit Scholarship Corporation is considering your composite score, rather than your section scores, all sections are important for qualifying for National Merit Semifinalist, Finalist, and scholarships.
Changes in Content
The changes that were made to the content of the PSAT match the revisions to the SAT. Overall, the content is more evidence- and context-based, featuring real world scenarios and data analysis. Emphasized skills include depth of analysis, interpretation of a word or idea in context, and multi-step problem solving. Check out the “Skills Crosswalk” for all three sections on College Board.
Gone are the days of studying long lists of obscure vocabulary - the new PSAT (and SAT) tests that you understand the meaning and connotation of a word within the context of a passage. Similarly, grammar questions ask you to revise sentences within the context of passages, not as stand-alone sentences.
All of the sections will include graphs and charts to test your ability to interpret, describe, and represent data visually or in words. The following example is taken from College Board’s New PSAT Sample Questions for the math section.
Math questions also include multi-step grid-in word problems. They are going to focus more on algebra and data analysis and less on geometry. The geometry problems that are still there ask you to solve problems involving area, volume, or line, angle, and triangle theorems.
What This Means for Your Prep
Focus on sharpening your skills of problem-solving, data interpretation, and understanding grammar and vocabulary through context. These skills are more connected to what you learn in class and real life. You can develop them through reading and writing widely and often, as well as by paying attention to data representation and analysis in your math and science classes.
When you’re reading, take notes on the work’s structure and organization. Consider the passage’s theme, tone, style, etc. and make sure you can point to specific lines that support your ideas.
Get a sense of the various connotations of words in different contexts, rather than memorizing lists of vocabulary. For example, “brilliant” may mean exceptionally smart when describing a person, but it suggests bright and vivid when describing a color.
Many of the skills and knowledge being tested remain the same from the old PSAT - understanding of literary terms and elements, depth of analysis and interpretation, working knowledge of various mathematical concepts.
The new PSAT asks you to go one step further: to back up your answer with evidence, whether it is from a passage or chart, and to understand the relationships among words and numbers.
Don't stop here: check out our collection of free practice questions and full-length tests for the PSAT, plus learn more about how to use old practice tests and material to prep effectively for the new PSAT.
PSAT Comparison Chart
Below is a chart comparing key points for the old version of the PSAT and the new version of the exam. You can use this to quickly see some of the most important differences between the two tests.
Total Scoring Scale
Section Score Scales
Critical Reading: 20-80
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 160-760
2 hours and 10 minutes
2 hours and 45 minutes
Number of Answer Choices
Lose ¼ point for every incorrect answer
No guessing penalty
To Find Out More...
To learn more about the changes from the test makers, check out College Board’s site. As this site discusses the PSAT and SAT together, you’ll see the similarities in the two redesigns. The PSAT, unlike the SAT, still does not have an essay.
Students who are taking the PSAT this fall don’t have as much practice material as past classes had, but you can still prep very effectively and get a high score if you are aware of the changes. As time goes on, more and more practice material for the new PSAT will become available.
What scores do you need to qualify for theNational Merit Scholarship? Read about what scores qualify on the new PSAT scoring scale.
How can you win a National Merit Scholarship? We describe the different kinds of scholarships and what you need to do to qualify.
Curious about the SAT changes that were implemented in 2016?Read our detailed guide to the redesigned SAT.
Want to get a perfect SAT score?Read about what it takes from an SAT perfect scorer.
Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: