What’s the PSAT?

The PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT.  This multiple-choice, standardized exam is administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

The purpose of this test is to prepare students for the SAT by allowing them to identify their strengths and weaknesses in the following tested subject areas: Critical Reading, Math and Writing.

This test also gives students access to the NMSC scholarship program and career planning tools.  To learn more about the National Merit Scholarship Program, click here.

What’s the Test Format?

The PSAT takes 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete.  Each section is broken down as follows:

Math – two 25 minute sections

  • 28 Multiple Choice Questions
  • 10 Student Produced Responses

Critical Reading – two 25 minute sections

  • 13 Sentence Completion Questions
  • 35 Critical Reading Questions

Writing – one 30 minute section

  • 14 Identifying Sentence Errors
  • 20 Improving Sentences Questions
  • 5 Improving Paragraph Questions

Are Calculators Allowed?

Yes, you may use a calculator on the PSAT test.  In fact, calculators are actually encouraged.  College Board recommends that each student uses a calculator that he or she is familiar with.  However, not every question will require a calculator, so students should first read the question, figure out how they will solve it, and then determine if a calculator is necessary.

Most calculators are allowed, however you may not use the calculator on your laptop, cell phone, or electronic organizers.  Four-function calculators, scientific calculators, and graphing calculators are all okay.

When Do I Take This Test?

Students typically take this exam during their junior year of high school.  A lot of students choose to take this exam more than once.  For example, if you are a sophomore, you may take the test now to prepare for when you take it again during your junior year.  Only PSAT scores that are earned during your junior year will qualify you for the NMSC scholarship program.

Why Should I Take This Test?

The PSAT is designed to prepare you for the SAT.  If your plan is to attend a traditional college, then your SAT scores will be an important part of the admissions process.

Additionally, this test will determine if you’re eligible for the NMSC program.  Your PSAT score report will list the sum of all three of your test scores on the Selection Index.  The Selection Index ranges from 60 to 240; the average eligible index in order to qualify is usually around 145.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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