What is the PSAT?


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The acronym, PSAT, sounds so similar to the familiar abbreviation SAT. How much do they have in common, and how do they differ?

We’ll examine the PSAT in greater depth in the article below.

What’s the PSAT Test?

The PSAT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a practice version of the SAT. The test is also sometimes referred to as the NMSQT (or PSAT NMSQT), which stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The highest scorers may become semifinalists for a National Merit Scholarship.

This is a trademark of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This standardized test is administered by the College Board.

Here is the website of the College Board.

what is the psat

What is the PSAT test used for?

The PSAT has two main purposes. The one that many people are familiar with is that it is used as a primer or a practice SAT. The score you receive on your PSAT indicates how well you are likely to do on the SAT.

This information can help guide a student in his or her study tactics when preparing for the SAT. Students can study more or seek tutoring on the sections or types of questions they did not perform as well on in the PSAT as they desired.

If the student had not taken the PSAT to prepare, then they would find out only after taking the SAT which questions they should have studied more for or sought out help preparing for.

In addition to helping young people prepare for the SAT, however, the PSAT is also used to qualify students for certain scholarships.

National Merit Scholars are chosen as potential merit scholarship award winners based on their test scores. If they score in the top 1% of students on the PSAT, then they become semifinalists for a National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

The College Board has stated that achieving a score on the SAT that meets their benchmark indicates a 75% probability of earning at least a C grade in a college course.

A good PSAT score can improve a student’s chances of being accepted into a competitive college.

The PSAT test is usually offered once a year on a specific date in autumn.

Predicted SAT Score Based on PSAT Score

One of the main motivations for a student to take the PSAT is to get an idea of how well he or she will do on the SAT.

Statistics show that a student’s score on the PSAT does predict how well a student will do on the SAT. Of course, depending on how well the student studies, the actual outcome may be different than the prediction.

Below are the predicted SAT test scores based on a student’s most recent PSAT/NMSQT scores.

Score on PSAT Correlated Score on SAT
400 630
420 650
440 660
460 680
480 700
500 710
520 730
540 750
560 760
580 780
600 800
620 810
640 730
660 850
680 870
700 880
720 900
740 920
760 930
780 950
800 970
820 980
840 1000
860 1020
880 1030
900 1050
920 1070
940 1080
960 1100
980 1120
1000 1140
1020 1150
1040 1170
1060 1190
1080 1200
1100 1220
1120 1240
1140 1250
1160 1270
1180 1290
1200 1300
1220 1320
1240 1340
1260 1350
1280 1370
1300 1390
1320 1410
1340 1420
1360 1440
1380 1460
1400 1470
1420 1490
1440 1510
1460 1520
1480 1540
1500 1560
1520 1570

You might notice that sometimes a difference of 20 points on the PSAT results in an expected difference of 10 points on the SAT, but sometimes 20 points.

This is because there is not a direct conversion for the score on the PSAT to the predicted score on the SAT. Instead, based on the data of many, many students’ test scores, these are the correlated, or predicted, SAT scores based on the previous PSAT scores.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that these correlations are specifically for the PSAT/NMSQT. If a student is taking the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10, then these exact predictions do not apply since the student is much younger and it is a different version of the test.

Good PSAT Scores

A good PSAT score is between 1210 and 1520. This falls within the top 10% of test takers.

The PSAT includes evidence-based reading, language test, math sections, as well as cross-test scores in science. These sections are designed to measure a student’s critical reading, writing, and math skills.

Are There Different Versions of the PSAT?

It may come as a surprise to some, but there are actually different versions of the PSAT. Since students can take the test at different ages, there are slightly different versions depending on the expected grade of the student taking the exam.

One version of the PSAT is called the PSAT 8/9. This version is intended to be taken by eighth and ninth grade students.

The next version is the PSAT 10, which is geared toward tenth grade students.

Finally, the PSAT/NMSQT is intended for eleventh grade students. It may also be taken by tenth grade students if they can show that they will be graduating a year early.

What is the difference between the PSAT and SAT test?

Although the PSAT is a practice SAT, there are several other differences between the two tests besides one being for practice and one being the actual test.

The PSAT is generally considered a bit easier than the SAT. This is because it is expected that students are older and have had another year of school since they took the PSAT.

The scoring is also different, with the PSAT score ranging from 320 to 1520, whereas the SAT test scores range from 400 to 1600.

The PSAT is less expensive, as well. It typically costs about $18, while the SAT generally costs $55. (The fee may be waived, however, for students who are eligible.)

The SAT exam may also include an essay portion, whereas the PSAT does not.

For obvious reasons, the PSAT is taken earlier in a student’s career than the SAT. The PSAT is often taken in a student’s junior year of high school, while the SAT is usually taken in his or her senior year.

The PSAT has limits on how many times you can take it, whereas the SAT does not.

How are the PSAT and the SAT similar?

Both the PSAT and SAT attempt to ascertain a student’s academic readiness, or “scholastic aptitude.” They do this by asking students questions on certain topics.

Although the SAT is known to be slightly longer and more challenging than the PSAT, both tests have a similar format and set of topics.

They both include sections in reading, writing and language, math without a calculator, and math with a calculator.

Within these sections, some questions for both tests also overlap with other academic topics, such as science, history,  and U.S. and world literature.

PSAT versus SAT

The table below shows some key similarities and differences between the PSAT and the SAT.

How Many Times Can You Take the Test? 3 Unlimited
Cost $18 $55
When is it taken? Mid-October, third year of high school. Additionally, it can be taken in any two other years. Senior year of high school. Can be taken in August, October, November, December, March, May, or June.
What topics are covered? Math and reading with crossover into other subjects Math and reading with crossover into other subjects
How many questions? 139 total 154 total
How long does it take? 2 hours 45 minutes total 3 hours total
What is the score range? 320 – 1520 400 – 1600

What Topics are Tested in the PSAT?

As mentioned above, the topics tested on the PSAT generally include math, reading, writing, and language. Some questions also crossover into history, science, U.S. and world literature, and social studies.

More details about the subtopics are covered below.

PSAT Math Section

For math, there is both a calculator section and a section for which a calculator is not allowed. Math is further divided into four main topics

The main topics for math on the PSAT include “Heart of Algebra,” Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics.

The Heart of Algebra section consists of 16 questions which involve creating, analyzing, interpreting, and solving a variety of equations and formulas.

The Problem Solving and Data Analysis section is also 16 questions long. It asks students to describe graphic, qualitative, and quantitative information, and to analyze relationships utilizing percentages, proportions, ratios, and/or units.

Passport to Advanced Math contains 14 questions that require students to manipulate, solve, and analyze polynomials and higher-order and quadratic equations.

Finally, the Additional Topics section has two questions which ask students to use geometric theorems and determine volume and area in context.

PSAT Reading Section

The reading portion of the PSAT is 60 minutes long and includes 47 multiple-choice questions based on passages.

There are four single passages, as well as one set of paired passages. Each passage or set of passages is between 500 and 700 words long.

The passages will include information about U.S. and world literature, History/Social Studies, and Science. Questions are multiple choice, and progress from less specific to more detailed.

The U.S. and World Literature section has one section with nine questions.

History/Social Studies and Science each have two passage sets and nine to ten questions. (One passage might or might not be a paired passage set within each section.)

The questions are designed to also test specific skills, including information and ideas, summarizing, rhetoric, and synthesis.

“Information and Ideas” includes reading closely, being able to cite evidence from the text, and identifying important themes and concepts of a text.

“Summarizing” refers to comprehending relationships, words, and phrases from context.

Questions testing a student’s understanding of “rhetoric” will evaluate how well a student can analyze word choice, point of view, and arguments. They also look at how well a student can determine purpose, assess text structure, and assess part-whole relationships.

Finally, the questions about “synthesis” test how well the student analyzes quantitative information and multiple texts.

PSAT Writing and Language Section

The Writing and Language Section of the PSAT is 35 minutes long with approximately 44 multiple choice questions. The questions are related to four passages which are each 450 to 550 words long.

As with the other categories, there are further subtopics or crossover topics that are tested, as well as specific skills. The subtopics include Careers, Humanities, History/Social Studies, and Science.

“Careers” refers to industries such as healthcare, information technology, or others, while “Humanities” is described as “arts and letter.”

The “History/Social Studies” sub-category within the writing and language section goes over concepts including economics, law, education, political science, sociology, anthropology, education, communication studies, human geography, linguistics, and psychology.

“Science” in the writing and language section delves into the ideas of natural sciences such as Earth science, physics, chemistry, and biology.

PSAT Writing and Language Details

Furthermore, the passages will be varied in what type of text they are. One passage will be nonfiction narrative, one or two will be informative/explanatory, and one or two will be in the form of an argument.

Specific skills that will be tested in this section include Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions.

Expression of Ideas has 24 questions which evaluate a student’s ability to use language effectively, including developing and organizing ideas well.

Standard English Conventions has 20 questions which look at how well a student utilizes language conventions such as sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

There will also be informational graphics with data that will need to be interpreted.

Additionally, there are many questions which ask the student to determine the optimal version of a text, based on organization and word choice.

How Many Times Can I Take the PSAT?

The PSAT does have limits on how frequently a student may take it, and how many times it may be taken overall.

This exam can only be taken once per year, and only three times total during a student’s school years.

When Do I Take the PSAT?

The PSAT is offered in mid-October every year. Students generally take this exam in their third year of school. They can get extra practice by also taking it in their first and/or second year of school.

In order to be considered for qualification for the National Merit Scholarship award, a student must take this exam in their third year.

(If the student is graduating a year early, however, then he or she may qualify for the award during their second year, as long as this is properly noted.)

Make sure to check with your school to find out the exact dates and how to register for the PSAT. You usually need to register no later than September of the year in which you take the test.

Is the PSAT easier than the SAT?

The PSAT is generally considered to be a bit easier than the SAT. This is because a student typically takes the PSAT when they are younger and have had less schooling than when he or she takes the SAT.

The SAT also may contain an essay portion, which the PSAT does not.

What is the PSAT test?

The PSAT is the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, or in other words, a practice SAT. In a student’s third year of high school, this test is also doubles as the initial qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Award contest.

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