What is the PSAT?


Most of us are already familiar with the SAT that students take late in their high school careers and put on their college entrance application, but what about the PSAT? What does PSAT stand for? When do you need to take it? Can you retake the PSAT?

To answer all of these questions, we have prepared some PSAT facts that will make you better understand why the number of students taking the test grows every year.


PSAT Meaning

PSAT stands for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test which is taken before the actual SAT. Sometimes it is referred to as NMSQT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

What’s does PSAT measure?

Since the PSAT meaning includes the word Preliminary in the beginning, it is somehow preparing you for the SAT by measuring critical reading, mathematical problem-solving, and writing.

What are the 2 sections of the PSAT?

One of the most important PSAT facts we can share in this article is the learning areas included in the test. Similar to the SAT, the PSAT has two sections: Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Mathematics. Here is a detailed breakdown of what is included in the test.

(1) 60-minute Reading Test composed of 47 multiple-choice questions that are based on literature, historical documents, social sciences, and natural sciences. The goal is to test reading comprehension, vocabulary, and analytical thinking.

(2) 35-minute Writing and Language Test composed of 48 questions based on non-fiction passages about humanities, science, history, etc.

(3) 70-minute Math Test composed of 48 questions mostly multiple-choice. It is divided into two sections and calculators are allowed in the first part, but not in the second part. Topics usually included are algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

The calculators that are allowed during the test are the following: our-function, scientific, or graphing calculators.

What are the benefits of taking the PSAT?

  1. Receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college and then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
  2. Gauge how your performance compares to others who will likely apply to college.
  3. Help prepare for the SAT exam (Become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.)
  4. Receive information from colleges if you check “yes” to Student Search Service.
  5. Enter the competition for scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (grade 11).

*Doing well on the PSAT qualifies students to be recognized and/or awarded scholarships by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Earning this positive attention and money toward school is an amazing opportunity.

When are the test dates for the PSAT?

The 2020 primary test date for the PSAT is on October 14. For the Saturday date, it is on October 17, and for the alternate date, it is on October 28, 2020. 

How to register for the PSAT?

The PSAT is not facilitated by the college board so students register through their high school. Most of the time, the guidance counselors are in-charge of the PSAT so it would be best to ask them when is the test date for your school. 

You can also get an Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT from their office in September. They offer test-taking help, information about National Merit Scholarship Corporation scholarship competitions, and a full-length practice PSAT test.

Can you retake the PSAT?

Students can take the PSAT three times from freshman, sophomore, and junior years. However, the only score counted for the scholarship is taken from the junior year results.

What is a good PSAT score? 

The overall PSAT score ranges from 320 to 1520 calculated from adding the two area scores. The grading system is quite complicated but if you would like to be in the top 10% of the test takers, you should have an overall score of 1210-1520. This will also give you a chance to get the scholarship.

A score of 1070-200 is still competitive and usually, 25% of test-takers get this score. The below-average PSAT scores are 950 and below.

When do PSAT results come out?

Traditionally, the PSAT score results are available online by December.

How should you prepare for the PSAT?

Since the PSAT results won’t reflect on your high school transcript, you won’t have to review that much about different concepts you have learned from school unlike if you are taking the SAT. However, if you would like to win the National Merit Scholar which is also another PSAT meaning, you better take the test seriously and prepare for it just as you will do for the SAT. You may find some SAT preparation tips useful even in PSAT.


Taking the PSAT is not as stressful as taking the SAT. But for most students who strive for the National Merit Scholar recognition and money, doing well on the test is necessary.

It is also important to note that aside from earning a scholarship, the PSAT gives students an idea of how the actual SAT will be like. Through the test results, they will also know what specific learning areas do they need improvement.

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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