What Is the PSAT Test Everything You Need to Know


Most students know what the SAT is, but what is the PSAT? Sure, it’s got “SAT” in its name, but is the PSAT actually connected to the SAT? More importantly, how does the PSAT test work and what is its purpose?

In this article,

we’ll answer your most pressing question: what is the PSAT test?

We’ll start by explaining the meaning of PSAT and why students typically elect to take it. We’ll then go over the logistics of the test and how PSAT scoring works. Finally, we’ll finish with a brief discussion about how important PSAT scores actually are for students.

What Is the PSAT? How Is It Connected to the SAT?

To start, what is the PSAT test? Cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), the

Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT)—often shortened to PSAT—is

a standardized test targeting 10th and 11th graders in the US.

Every year, approximately 3.5 million students take the PSAT test at various high schools. But why take it at all?

As it stands,

the PSAT is heavily connected to the SAT.

One of the test’s primary purposes is to act as a precursor to the SAT—as the name suggests, as an SAT practice test. Thus, the PSAT and SAT heavily

mirror each other

in regard to content, structure, and even scoring.

But the two tests aren’t identical. Here are some major differences between the PSAT and SAT:

  • The PSAT and SAT have

    different score scales
  • The PSAT is

    slightly easier

    than the SAT
  • There are

    fewer questions on the PSAT

    than there are on the SAT

Now, let’s jump back to the “NMSQT” part of the full PSAT name. In addition to being a preparatory test for the SAT,

the PSAT is a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

In other words,

PSAT scores determine students’ eligibility for National Merit scholarships

. Each year the top 1% of 11th-grade PSAT takers become Semifinalists. Of these, about 7,500 go on to win scholarship money.


what about the PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9?

The main purpose of these two tests is to prepare students for the PSAT/NMSQT and eventually the SAT.

Nearly identical to the PSAT/NMSQT, the


is only offered in the spring and is specifically geared toward 10th graders. As a result,

the PSAT 10 is slightly easier than the PSAT/NMSQT.

Additionally, because only 10th graders can take the PSAT 10,

this test cannot qualify you for National Merit.


PSAT 8/9

, on the other hand, targets even younger folks—you guessed it: 8th and 9th graders—and is administered in the fall and spring. Unlike both the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, the PSAT 8/9 uses

a different scoring scale and is both shorter and easier

than the PSAT 10.


Why Do Students Take the PSAT?

10th and 11th graders take the PSAT primarily for the following three reasons:

  • To practice for the SAT:

    One of the most common reasons students, especially juniors, take the PSAT is to get familiar with the layout and content of the SAT, which is often required for college admission. The PSAT provides students with the opportunity to get a feel for the SAT, and helps them identify potential strengths and weaknesses.

  • To secure a National Merit distinction or scholarship:

    The other major reason students take the PSAT is to try to win a National Merit scholarship. Each year about 1.6 million juniors enter the National Merit competition via the PSAT. Of these test takers 16,000 will become


    , and of these Semifinalists 15,000 will become


    . In the end, 7,500 entrants will each win a $2,500 scholarship along with the (extremely prestigious) distinction of National Merit Scholar.

  • To prepare for a second attempt at the PSAT (if taking it as a sophomore):

    The final reason students take the PSAT is to practice for the PSAT as sophomores before taking it again as juniors. Although sophomores aren’t eligible for National Merit, taking the PSAT early can increase your shot at getting a high PSAT score—and a coveted National Merit scholarship—later on.

One thing should be noted, though:

at some high schools, the PSAT is mandatory for certain grade levels or groups of students

. This means that some students will take the PSAT simply because they have to. Even if the test is required by your school, your PSAT score will


affect your GPA or your chance of getting into college.

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Where and When Is the PSAT?

Unlike the SAT, you do


get to choose your test center; rather,

you register for and take the PSAT test at your own high school

(or a nearby school, should your school not offer it).

If you’re uncertain whether your school will be administering the PSAT, or if you’d like to look for a list of schools in your area that


be administering it, use the College Board’s

school search tool


So when can you take the PSAT?

The PSAT is administered every autumn, usually starting in early or mid-October

, on three dates:

  • A primary date
  • A Saturday date
  • An alternate date

Again, you do


get to choose when you take the test. Instead,

your school will decide on which date it will administer the PSAT

. By far the vast majority of schools hold the PSAT on the primary date. To confirm your school’s PSAT test date, consult your counselor.

Here is the 2021 official PSAT testing schedule:

Primary Date

Saturday Date

Alternate Date
Wednesday, October 13, 2021 Saturday, October 16, 2021 Wednesday, October 27, 2021


The College Board


How Much Does the PSAT Cost?

The PSAT costs $17

, but this price varies depending on the school.

Some schools might cover all or part of this fee, making the test free for students, whereas others might require students to pay more so as to compensate for the hiring of test proctors.

Your school (or the school at which you’re taking the PSAT test) should give you instructions on how to pay for the test and by when you’ll need to submit your payment.

Most schools request PSAT payments from students by around September.

Note that you will


need to pay the College Board directly (that’s the school’s job!).

If you can’t afford the test fee, you might be eligible for a

PSAT fee waiver

. Fee waivers are typically available to

low-income 11th graders only.

To see whether you qualify for a waiver, consult your counselor. Only schools—not students—can request fee waivers from the College Board.

What Does the PSAT Cover?

The PSAT, which underwent a

redesign in 2015

to accompany the

2016 SAT redesign

, is

extremely similar to the SAT in both form and content.

There are three sections on the PSAT: Reading, Writing and Language (hereafter “Writing”), and Math. Each section appears

only once

on the PSAT in a predetermined order: (1) Reading, (2) Writing, and (3) Math.

Similar to the SAT, the PSAT Math section consists of two subsections: a

No Calculator

subsection on which you may not use a calculator, and a


subsection on which you may use

a (pre-approved) calculator


Most questions on the PSAT are multiple choice.

The only exceptions are the

Math section’s grid-in questions

. For these questions, you must come up with and write in your own answers. According to the College Board,

17% of PSAT Math, or eight questions, are grid-ins


Below is the

general breakdown of the PSAT.

You can see when each section appears on the test, how much time you’ll have for each section, and how many questions there are. For an even better idea of what’ll be on the PSAT, I suggest looking at an

official PSAT practice test


PSAT Section

Order on Test

Time Allotted

# of Questions
Reading 1 60 mins 47
Writing and Language 2 35 mins 44
Math No Calculator 3 25 mins 17
Math Calculator 4 45 mins 31


How Is the PSAT Scored?

The total PSAT score range is

320-1520 in 10-point increments.

This score consists of your Math score and your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score, both of which are scored on a scale of


(EBRW is a combination of the Reading and Writing sections.) These two section scores are actually your

scaled, or equated, scores.

But how do you get these scores?

On the PSAT,

you start off with three raw scores, one each for Reading, Writing, and Math.

A raw score is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly. You do not lose any points for incorrect answers!

Your raw scores for each section are then converted into


scores on a scale of 8-38

through a special equating process described in

our guide to PSAT scoring


It should also be noted here that these test scores, when combined and multiplied by 2, give you your

Selection Index score

, which the NMSC uses to determine eligibility for the National Merit competition.

Your Math test score is

multiplied by 20

to give you a scaled Math score out of 760. Similarly, your Reading and Writing scores are

combined and multiplied by 10

to give you a single scaled EBRW score (also out of 760).

In addition to section scores,

you’ll be given

subscores and cross-test scores

. These scores are the same as those on the SAT and indicate your mastery of specific skills. Subscores have a score range of


whereas cross-test scores have a score range of


Here is a list of the

seven subscores on the PSAT test:


  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions


  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

And here are the

two cross-test scores on the PSAT:

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science

At present,


average PSAT score

is 1005 for 11th graders and 915 for 10th graders



good PSAT score



, though, will depend on what your PSAT goals are. If you hope to qualify for National Merit, you’ll need

a score that places you in the top 1% of test takers for your state


A good PSAT score could also be

any score in the

75th percentile or higher


or simply any score similar to

what you’ll need on the SAT

to get into the colleges you’re planning on applying to.

But in the end, does your PSAT score really mean anything?

Does Your PSAT Score Actually Matter?

The truth is that

your PSAT score is far less important than your SAT (or ACT) score is.

This is mainly because

the PSAT isn’t used for college admissions.

Moreover, your PSAT score has no effect on your GPA, so if you really don’t want to take the test, you don’t actually need to (unless it’s mandatory at your school).

The only major function of PSAT scores is to win scholarship money and the honor of National Merit Scholar. But unless you’re actively aiming for National Merit status, your PSAT score isn’t actually that important.

Nevertheless, if you’re hoping to eventually secure a high SAT score, approaching the PSAT with diligence will be critical for your success. Why? You see,

PSAT scores directly translate into SAT scores.

So a 1400 on the PSAT equals a 1400 on the SAT, a 900 equals a 900, and so on. In short,

your PSAT score acts as a predictor of your SAT score.

Of course, your PSAT score doesn’t take into account any additional time you’ll spend studying for the SAT, so it’s not likely going to be 100% accurate. But what your PSAT score


offer is a clear idea as to where you’re currently scoring and how much of an improvement you’ll need to make in order to hit your

SAT goal score


Simply put,

you can use your PSAT score as your baseline SAT score,

making it a fairly useful (and thus important) score to know.


Summary: What Is the PSAT? Is It Important?


a practice test for the SAT

that’s offered every October for 10th and 11th graders. It also serves as

a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program,

which awards $2,500 scholarships annually to high-scoring 11th graders.

You must register for the PSAT test at your own school (or a nearby school) and take it on the test date chosen by your school.

The test fee is $17,

but this cost varies depending on the school. Fee waivers are usually available to low-income juniors.

The overall structure and content of the PSAT is similar to that of the SAT. There are three sections (Reading, Writing, and Math) that combine to give you a score between 320 and 1520.

PSAT scores directly correspond to SAT scores,

meaning a score on the PSAT will


equal the same score on the SAT.


how important your PSAT score is depends on what you plan to do with it.

If you want to qualify for National Merit or eventually get a high SAT score, it’s critical that you get a good PSAT score. But if not, your PSAT score won’t hold much significance for you or anyone else.

In any case, your PSAT score will


be far less important than your SAT (or ACT) score will be!

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about the PSAT?

Check out

our expert guide to the PSAT

for an extensive overview of everything you’ll need to know about the test and what’s on it.

Confused about PSAT scores?

Our in-depth analysis of the

PSAT score range

takes a close look at how the PSAT is scored and explains how


can use this knowledge to your advantage.

Ready to register for the PSAT?


our step-by-step guide to learn how the PSAT registration process

works as well as how it differs from the

SAT registration


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