What To Know About The PSAT

The PSAT, or the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a standardized exam that provides students with a practice version of the SAT.   Most students take the test in their junior year of high school.  Exam results are used to determine qualification and eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSC).

So exactly why is the PSAT so important?  Besides giving students firsthand exposure to a college entry exam, the PSAT determines entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSC), an academic competition for college scholarships and recognition. 

 Each year, of the 1.5 million students who take the PSAT, 50,000 qualify for recognition, two-thirds of whom receive Letters of Commendation, and the other third go on to become Semifinalists.  Of these, about 94% become Finalists, over half of who win scholarships. 

 The PSAT measures critical reading skills, writing skills, and the ability of students to solve math problems.  You have acquired knowledge in these areas over the years, both in and outside of the classroom.  The exam does not require you to remember specific facts, but measures your comprehension and understanding of each area. 

 What does the PSAT look like? The PSAT is composed of five sections: two 25-minute math sections, two 25-minute critical reading sections, and a half-hour writing section.  The exam takes two hours and 10 minutes to complete. 

 The critical reading portion consists of 48 questions, the first section (13) which focuses on sentence completions, while the second (35) focuses on critical reading questions. 

 The math portion is made up of 38 questions.  The first part has multiple-choice answers, and the second is student-produced responses.  Students should be comfortable using operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measurement, and data analysis, statistics, and probability.  A calculator is recommended. 

 The writing skills section includes 39 questions, which focus on identifying sentence errors, and improving sentences and paragraphs.  This category measures a student’s ability to communicate ideas successfully, utilize language with sensitivity to meaning, and to identify errors in structure and usage. 

 What are the reasons to take the PSAT? Besides competing for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program, and taking a practice version of the SAT, the PSAT provides students with feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in skills that are crucial for college.  This allows students to more adequately prepare with extra studying.  The PSAT helps students evaluate how their final score on an admissions exam compares with that of other students applying to college.  The PSAT assists students who plan to take the SAT by familiarizing them with the types of questions and problems seen on the SAT.  Finally, the PSAT allows students to receive information from colleges and universities if they say “yes” to the Student Search Service.