The PSAT (Preliminary SAT) is a test designed to prepare high school students for the SAT. It is also used as the initial screening process for the National Merit Scholarship, which provides students with funds that can be put towards college.
The PSAT is given only once a year in October. In 2012, the test will be administered on October 17th or October 20th, depending on your school. Both high school sophomores and juniors can take it, though only juniors will be eligible to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.
The test is modeled after the SAT and mirrors its structure in many ways. There are three sections of the test: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Each section is graded on a 20-80 point scale, and these scores are combined to make up the student’s final score. Like the SAT, there is a guessing penalty, meaning that each incorrect answer lowers the student’s overall score slightly. The PSAT is divided into four 25-minute sections and one 30-minute section, which is always Writing. The entire test takes two hours and ten minutes to complete.
The Math section is made up of multiple choice problems and grid-in questions. The test covers material from Arithmetic, Geometry, and Algebra I. Unlike the SAT, there are no Algebra II questions on the test.
The Critical Reading section of the PSAT consists of multiple choice questions that are either reading comprehension problems in response to passages, or sentence completions. Both of these problem types are the ones found on the SAT.
The Writing section of the PSAT is made up of multiple choice questions about English grammar and style. These are often about identifying sentence errors and improving paragraphs. Unlike the SAT, there is no essay portion of the PSAT.
There are many benefits and very few downsides to taking the PSAT. Colleges will not see your PSAT score, so if you don’t do as well as you’d like, it will not affect your chances of admission. However, taking the PSAT will give you the valuable experience of getting used to SAT-style questions and taking a test in a similar environment. Your PSAT score will also give you a good idea of which areas you need the most work so that you can better focus your studying as you prepare for the SAT. Because your score report will include national percentages, you can put the numbers in context and see how you are doing in comparison to other high school students in the nation. Finally, students who score in the top percentile might be eligible for college scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. A great way to maximize your chances of achieving a high score on the PSAT is to work with a private tutor on a structured test prep plan.