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The PSAT Test, or the Preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), is a multiple-choice standardized test administered and cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). This test gives hands-on practice for the SAT test that allows students to identify their strengths and weaknesses in critical reading, math problem-solving skills and writing skills. This test also is an opportunity to connect with NMSC scholarship programs and career planning tools.
When should you take the PSAT test?
Over a million juniors and sophomores take the PSAT each year, and some 9th, 8th, and even 7th graders have also begun taking this test. You can take the PSAT more than once, so if you are younger than a junior it may be a good idea to take the test to get extra preparation, because beginning junior year the PSAT score can qualify you for the NMSC scholarship program. To learn more about when you should plan to take the PSAT test visit our college action plan calendars.
How long is the PSAT test?
The PSAT test is composed of three sections: Math, Critical Reading and Writing. The test takes two hours and ten minutes to complete (130 minutes):
- Math (two 25-minute sections)
- 28 Multiple choice questions
- 10 Student produced responses
- Critical Reading (two 25-minute sections)
- 13 Sentence completion
- 35 Critical reading questions
- Writing (one 30-minute section)
- 14 Identifying sentence errors
- 20 Improving sentences
- 5 Improving paragraph questions
Can you bring a calculator to the PSAT test?
Yes, students are strongly encouraged to take a calculator to the PSAT exam whether on not they plan on using it. The college board recommends using a calculator you are used to, and deciding on how to solve the problem before jumping to use the calculator — not every question will require one. Note that you can use classic four-function calculators, scientific calculators, and graphing calculators, but the calculator on your laptop, pocket organizer, or calculators that talk, require an outlet, with typewriter-like keypads or paper tape are not allowed!
Why should you take the PSAT test?
If you plan on going to a traditional college your SAT scores will be very important when determining what schools you can get into, and the PSAT will prepare you for this test. In addition high scores on the SAT can open doors for merit aid. Merit aid is based on good grades and test scores. In addition the PSAT is co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and your score on this test will connect you with their scholarship programs and planning tools as a junior in high school. Your score report will have the sum of your three test scores on the Selection Index that will determine your eligibility for the NMSC programs — only eleventh graders are eligible to enter the scholarship programs. The Selection Index ranges from 60 to 240. The average eligible index for eleventh graders last year was about 141.
How is the PSAT scored?
The PSAT is scored on a scale of 20-80 for each of the sections. The average test scores for eleventh graders last year was around 47 in Critical Reading, 48 in Mathematics, and 46 in Writing Skills. The average score for tenth graders was slightly lower. On your score report you can compare your score with other students in your grade level — juniors are compared to juniors and sophomores and younger to other sophomores. With your score report that lists your answers and the correct answer, you will get your test book, so you can review the test questions. To estimate your SAT score from the PSAT score add the verbal and math together and add a zero (SAT tests are scored from 200-800 points), but know this may not necessarily be an accurate indication, because the real SAT includes a writing section, and the math section is slightly harder, so regardless of whether you do well, you need to study more to prepare for the SAT.
Where do your scores from the PSAT go?
Your PSAT scores are for you and your schools counselor — colleges will not see these scores! These scores are to help you prepare for the SAT and can qualify you for scholarships. In some schools systems the test scores can also help place you for AP classes, where you can earn college credit. Do not worry if you are not happy with your scores, many students are not happy with their first test scores. Use the test results to find your areas of weakness and work on them before the SAT test.