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Hand with pen over application formThe PSAT/NMSQT is cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation. It is administered for the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation by Educational Testing Service (ETS). If you think the PSAT is just a practice test, then you’re missing a key part of the story. The PSAT/NSMQT is a preliminary version of the SAT. It is meant to prepare students for taking the SAT (or ACT) by simulating a shorter version of the exam, exposing students to relevant testing material, and showing students where they need to improve in order to reach their goal score on the SAT. The PSAT/NMSQT is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). This means that students who obtain a certain score on the PSAT can qualify for National Merit Scholarships, which can go a long way toward financing your college education.

Students across the US will take the PSAT/NMSQT this October, and for many this will be their initial introduction to the rigors of college entrance examinations. Before heading into the test, 10th and 11th graders need to know what to expect and how the PSAT/NMSQT can impact their college preparation strategy. It is automatically administered to most high school juniors. If you attend one of the many participating high schools, then you’ll be taking the PSAT one October school day in 11th grade. Unlike the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT test dates are predetermined; in 2017, schools are encouraged to give it on October 11th. Every year the primary PSAT test date falls on a Wednesday in mid-October. The alternate test date will be offered two weeks later, while the Saturday test date will fall within a few days of the primary test date.

Here are the official PSAT test dates 2017:

  • Primary date: Wednesday, October 11
  • Alternate Date: Wednesday, October 25
  • Saturday Date: Saturday, October 14

Younger students can also elect to take it as practice, but they’ll have to make a registration request to their school counsellor. College Board has recently offered other versions of the PSAT, the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10, for younger students, as well. Depending on your grade level and academic readiness, you can decide which test, if any, would be most useful for you to take before junior year.  Whenever you take the PSAT NMSQT, you’ll find that it’s useful practice for the SAT. The two tests are extremely similar; the main difference is that the PSAT doesn’t have an optional essay section. They’re even scored on a similar scale, with PSAT/NMSQT scores shifted down 80 points to account for the fact that it’s a slightly easier test. Your PSAT score report will give you detailed feedback on your performance with a bunch of section scores and subscores. You can use this feedback to direct your studying for the SAT.

The PSAT’s other main purpose is to qualify for National Merit distinction and scholarships. Only 11th graders with PSAT/NMSQT qualifying scores are eligible. Students who score in the top 3-4% are named Commended Students, while those who score in the top 1% are named Semi finalists. The majority of these Semi finalists, about 15,000 out of 16,000 students, are then invited to apply to become Finalists, also called National Merit Scholars. Finalists may receive scholarship money from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation or a participating college. If you’re looking to achieve top scores on the PSAT and ultimately earn scholarship money, then the PSAT/NMSQT becomes a very important test on your road to college. Even if you’re not, the PSAT is still highly useful as practice for the SAT. Now that you have a sense of when and why students take the PSAT/NMSQT, let’s examine the test itself, starting with its overall structure.

How is the PSAT/NMSQT Structured?

The PSAT NMSQT is a time intensive test, clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes. It has four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math No Calculator, and Math with Calculator. The names and order of these sections match that of the SAT. The only difference, as mentioned above, is that the PSAT doesn’t offer an optional essay section.

The chart below shows the order and length of the sections, along with the number of questions in each and approximate time per question.

Order Section Time in Minutes # of Questions Time per Question (approx)
1 Reading 60 47 76 seconds
2 Writing and Language 35 44 48 seconds
3 Math No Calculator 25 17 88 seconds
4 Math Calculator 45 31 87 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 45 minutes 139

You’ll get a five-minute break after about each hour of testing. There will be a break after Reading and a break after Math No Calculator. Before checking out the content of each section, let’s go over how the PSAT is scored.

How’s the PSAT/NMSQT Scored?

Your PSAT score report will break down your performance with a bunch of different score types. One of the most important is your total score, which will fall between 320 and 1520. This total score represents the sum of two section scores, one for Evidence-based Reading and Writing and one for Math. Notice that certain test sections are combined to bring you two section scores, rather than four. These two section scores range between 160 and 760. In addition to these section scores, you’ll get three “test scores” that tell you how you did on the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections. Essentially, these test scores separate out the Reading and Writing and Language sections so you can see how you did on each individually. These test scores will range from 8 to 38. Test scores are also important for the PSAT NMSQT Selection Index, which is another scoring scale that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses to determine who makes Semi finalist. If these score types weren’t enough, you’ll also get “cross-test scores” and “subscores” between 1 and 15 that tell you how you did in certain skill areas. All of this detailed feedback can actually be really useful in telling you how to prep for the SAT. You can even calculate all these score types yourself on PSAT/NMSQT practice tests and use them to figure out your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker. Finally, it’s important to note that the PSAT/NMSQT uses rights-only scoring. You’ll get one point for every correct answer, and no points for wrong or skipped answers. There aren’t any point deductions as there were in past years, so it’s in your best interest to answer every question.

Should I prep for the PSAT?

While some people might advise students to go into the test without preparation in order to more accurately gauge what they’ve learned and how they can improve, students can only benefit from prepping for the PSAT/NMSQT. First, it can help students reach a score that can qualify them for National Merit Scholarships. Again, this scholarship money can do a lot to help students finance their college dreams. Why leave scholarship money on the table when a little bit of prep can help? Second, it can help students get a head start on their SAT and ACT prep. We advise all students to take both the SAT and ACT in order to determine which test is the best fit for their abilities. By preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT, students will have a head start on their regular SAT or ACT test-prep, and, while the PSAT/NMSQT is a precursor to the SAT, the same material knowledge and test-taking strategies can be applied to the ACT.

How can I prep for the PSAT/NMSQT?

There are a number of ways that students can prep for the PSAT/NMSQT before the test day in October. First, take some practice tests. The College Board offers a free, full-length PSAT practice test along with an answer key and additional practice questions. Students can also find additional practice tests through a simple web search or by signing up for a free Khan Academy account. Second, practice some common test-taking strategies like process of elimination, skimming reading passages, working backwards by reading the questions before the passages, and skipping difficult questions and coming back to them later. By practicing these common strategies, students will be able to better pace and complete the sections within the allotted time. Students should also seek out test prep help at school or with a trusted tutor. Some schools might offer PSAT/NMSQT or SAT prep after school, so take advantage of those opportunities if available. If you need additional help, reach out to a tutor who can help you assess where you need to improve and what test prep techniques will help you reach your goals.

At Kaplan-Logiquest we have a team of expert tutors who can help students prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT and continue the appropriate test prep strategy as student’s transition into preparing for the SAT or ACT. For more information, visit our website &

Anirudh is basically from teaching background. He worked as a senior Math faculty in his last company. He has several certifications as a quant trainer to teach for GRE, Gmat, SAT, PSAT & ACT products. He taught more than 100 GRE, 100 SAT and 50 Gmat batches. He also taught in many prestagious institutions such as IIT Hyderabad, Oakridge international school, Srinidhi international school, Future kids international school, Excellencia School and also for Navodaya students. He received many awards as a Quant Trainer.