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PSAT 101 – All About the PSAT Test

All year, your English teacher has been hounding you about scoring well on the PSAT test. Your mom lectured you yesterday about the importance of the PSAT test; your dad promised he’d ground you until you were 27 if you didn’t win a National Merit Scholarship with your score from the stupid PSAT test.

You feel all this pressure to do well on the PSAT, but you really have no idea what it’s all about.

Why does the PSAT test even matter?

Here are the answers to some of your most burning questions about this necessary (if evil) standardized test.

What Is the PSAT Test?

A standardized pencil-and-paper test, just like the fifty you’ve taken throughout your elementary, middle and high school career. It gives students, usually juniors, an idea of how they’ll score on the SAT.

When Do I Take the PSAT Test?

Your junior year
A Tuesday and Saturday in October
Specific dates can be found on The College Board’s website
Why Should I Take It?

National Merit: The PSAT is also called the NMSQT, or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Scoring well on the PSAT can get you a National Merit Scholarship (a.k.a. – CASH), boost that college application, and impress your mom.
Scholarships: Speaking of cash, you can still get some from other organizations, even if you don’t qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.
MyRoad: This online college and career planning guide, offered for free to students who take the PSAT, gives you all sorts of tools like a personality profiler so you know which career suits you best. Use it in conjunction with My College QuickStart, another planning guide from College Board.
SAT Prep: Once you’ve taken the PSAT, you’ll have a better idea of what’s coming on the SAT. Think of it as a movie trailer for the big box office hit.
College Info: If you check yes to the Student Search Service on the PSAT, you’ll receive information from different colleges who are interested in having you apply.
What’s on the PSAT Test?

The PSAT has the following three sections:

Critical Reading:
Tests vocabulary, main idea, fact vs. opinion, and more
Split into two 25-minute sections
Contains 48 questions total
Tests basic arithmetic, algebra and geometry
Split into two 25-minute sections
Contains 39 questions total
Tests grammar, mechanics, and word choice
Has one 30-minute section
Contains 39 questions total
How Is it Different from the SAT?

Structure: SAT has 10 sections; PSAT has 5 sections
Length: SAT is 3 hrs. 45 mins.; PSAT is 2 hrs. 10 mins.
Purpose: SAT is used for college admissions and scholarships; PSAT is used for National Merit Recognition and scholarships.
Scoring: SAT has a possible score of 2400; PSAT has a possible score of 240. Obviously the scores correlate (link to PSAT scoring article), so the PSAT helps you figure out what you’ll score on the SAT.
How Much Should I Prepare?

If your goal is to win a National Merit Scholarship, then you should invest some serious study time into the PSAT; you must score in the upper 95th – 99th percentile to even be considered. If your goal is simply SAT prep, then relax a little bit and use the PSAT as a preview for the real test. Let your final score determine which sections to focus on for the SAT.