The PSAT is primarily a practice test for the SAT that many students take it to familiarize themselves with the question format of the actual test. Approximately 1.3 million students take the test every year, with most doing so in the October of their junior year in high school. Like the SAT, the PSAT is administered by the College Board.
The PSAT is also used as a qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) and the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students (NSSFNS).
The PSAT vs. the SAT
Although similar, the PSAT doesn't follow the exact format of the SAT - it's shorter in duration, clocking in at two hours and ten minutes compared to the SAT's three hours and 45 minutes. Also, the PSAT has no essay section and no higher level math, such as Algebra II. However, like the SAT, it does include math, critical reading and writing questions.
Here's a breakdown of the PSAT's three sections:
- The math section closely mirror the math section on the actual SAT, by testing basic junior high and early high school math skills. It takes 50 minutes to complete and consists of multiple choice and grid-in questions of varying difficulties.
- The critical reading section comes in two 25-minute portions made up of multiple choice questions. It also adheres to the format of the SAT.
- The writing section, surprisingly enough, actually has no writing in it - it's all multiple choice questions. The PSAT writing section is 30 minutes long and is a close match to the SAT's writing section.
There are a number of different ways to prepare for the PSATS. For some, the best option is self-directed study sessions. Others choose one-on-one tutoring or small classroom courses. Online PSAT prep programs are available to give students the chance to try out practice questions or even take an entire simulated PSAT.
Registration and Scoring
To write the PSAT, you'll first need to register at your high school or another school in your local community. You'll receive your scores from a guidance counselor or other appointed teacher in late December or early January.