What is PSAT?

What is the PSAT? — and 3 Reasons Why It’s Important

What is the PSAT anyways? Isn’t that just like the SAT? Why do I need to bother and take them both? What’s the difference? And what would I gain if I do?

These are probably just a few of the questions circling through your mind when you hear the word ‘PSAT’. And trust me—I get it, 100%. There are so many tests that you are already studying for and worrying about. And there is nothing you want more but to keep the test-taking down to a minimum.

You already have enough on your plate as it is, right?

But let me tell you, this is one test that you definitely don’t want to pass up. There are lots of benefits of taking the PSAT. In fact, there are three specific reasons that will actually have you running to get in line as fast as you can for this test.

I know you just want to watch netflix and chill rather than prep for another test, but believe me—you’ll want to hear everything I have to say about the PSAT. It definitely isn’t a waste of your precious time or a trick trying to con you!

It will help you in the future! BIG TIME.

What is PSAT?

First, there was the SAT and now another SAT, but with a P this time? I know you’re probably wondering what that means and I’m here to answer all your curiosities about the PSAT. Basically, the PSAT is the Practice SAT or in more formal terms the Preliminary SAT.

I’m sure you’re very puzzled why on earth you or anyone would want to experience the SAT before the time comes that it actually needs to be taken.

Well, I’m here to be the bearer of nothing but good news—the PSAT is actually not as bad as the SAT!

For one, the PSAT is shorter! Yep!

By 15 minutes.

But it still counts, right? It only takes 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish.

The PSAT is composed of two sections which are Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math. The test itself is broken down into three parts which are:

  • Reading
  • Writing and Language
  • Math (this has two subparts: with and without use of our best friend calculator)

I know you’re thinking . . . that’s it? Nope.

Another plus about the PSAT is that almost all items are multiple-choice! And that’s because the remaining parts are grid-in questions. Even the writing and language section is multiple choice!

And here is another surprise: there is no essay.

Phew . . .

Do you feel the big weight off your shoulders, yet?

what is the psat and why does it matter
You might have the same question and sentiments like Philosoraptor here—thanks for your question by the way!—but I’m getting there!

Even though the PSAT is a little different and may pose a little less challenge than the SAT, it doesn’t take away the fact that it is helpful to you in more ways than you could actually think of.

So, let’s talk about the PSAT benefits a.k.a. the reasons why it’s important—because that’s what we are all about here.

You might have the same question and sentiments like Philosoraptor here—thanks for your question by the way!—but I’m getting there!

Even though the PSAT is a little different and may pose a little less challenge than the SAT, it doesn’t take away the fact that it is helpful to you in more ways than you could actually think of.

So, let’s talk about the PSAT benefits a.k.a. the reasons why it’s important—because that’s what we are all about here.

It prepares you better for the SAT

That’s the first and foremost reason. Because like with most things—the more prepared you are, the better results you can expect.

We all know that the SAT is a scary thought. Most shiver even with just the mere mention of the name. But don’t worry, here are tips on how to tame the SAT!

Taking the PSAT will definitely help in reducing those SAT nerves you’re feeling. 

And here’s how: you will start being familiarized with the format of the questions. The reasons behind that are because PSAT incorporates the same format of questions that are also used in the SAT, and both tests the same areas of knowledge.

It’s like hitting two birds with one stone, right?

This only proves that PSAT helps you prepare for the SAT, since you will less likely be surprised by the types of questions you’ll see. That means you can focus more on finding the right answer within the allotted time.

The key to this is seeing the full score report which will show these details:

  • Your chosen answer
  • The correct answer
  • The difficulty level of the question

Here is an example of what a score report looks like:

After you get it, you can go over the test and check out the questions that you missed—and then prepare yourself better for those types of questions. You can also learn other information about your test taking skills from this section of the score report.

If most of the questions you miss are labeled as ‘easy’ or ‘medium’, that means you need to slow down and read the questions more carefully.

However, if you miss more questions that are on the ‘hard’ level of difficulty, then this is an indication that you need to focus on actual content and hit those books. Well, figuratively at least.

Not only will you be able to anticipate the types of questions you’ll encounter, but you’ll also learn what skills and areas you need to improve, and where your strengths lie.

In the full report of your score, you’ll be able to see what category do the questions you missed fall under. You will know then which topics you’re solid on, and which ones you need to pay attention more to or might have to study a little extra.

This narrows down the big pool of information you’ve been feeling like you’re drowning in and lets you determine exactly what you need to study to get the best score that you can on the SAT.

In addition, you also get to see where you rank in the two sections of the PSAT and where you scored in relation to students across the country through percentile. Through this, you’ll know what you have to compete with when it comes to the SAT.

See this example below:

Those are just a few examples of how the PSAT will help when it comes to its bigger, scarier brother, and real deal—the SAT.

And since we already touched the subject of scores and ranking, the next benefit is also related to it.

The National Merit Scholarship

I know what you associate college with . . .

Money, money, and more money!

How and where do you get it for college?

Yup! You guessed it right—the PSAT can help with the college expenses aspect, too!

There are many scholarships that come along with PSAT. But the most sought after is the National Merit Scholarship, which is awarded to a small number of students each year to help them fund their college experience. In fact, the PSAT is almost synonymous with the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).

The qualifying score for the said scholarship varies every year and in each state. But for the year 2020, the cutoff score for semifinalists is between 212 and 223.

Here is the complete list of cutoff scores in each state for the year 2020:

But, wait—what if you are living outside these states or are studying abroad? I still got answers for you.

You will still be able to take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test provided that you live in the U.S. commonwealths and territories, or you are a citizen of the United States. The cutoff scores are 212 for students in U.S. territories, and 223 for U.S. citizens students studying abroad.

 Moreover, even though the District of Columbia is not a state, it still has its own cutoff score which is at 223 as well.

What can you say? It’s a can-do, right?

Aside from that, this is just a preview snapshot of the benefits the National Merit Scholarship can give you. As you can see, these are just some of the universities that offer full-ride scholarships! There are more!

To access this information on how to get Crazy Scholarship Money From the PSAT and for a complete list of what kind of money different colleges and universities can offer you once you take the PSAT, just click on the link!

But if you thought the benefits ended there, well, then you’d be wrong.

It helps you connect with colleges

Now, why are any of us taking these grueling never-ending tests like the PSAT and SAT? To get accepted into our dream college of course!

As much as the PSAT makes us moan and groan and roll our eyes over in frustration, it really is an amazing tool to help us get connected with colleges that we are interested in, and vice-versa!

Yes, they can connect with you, too!

Let’s say you’re interested in studying engineering.  Or theater.  Or linguistics. Or any other program out there. Well, guess what? There’s a section on the PSAT called the student search service. 

This part of the PSAT asks what field you’re interested in, and if you want information about colleges that are interested in you when you decide to opt-in.

Dreading about a long-form?  You don’t need to sweat it because all you have to do is answer “yes” and then wait.

Soon enough, colleges will get in contact with you, and tell you all about their admissions, applications, and even a little about the scholarships that they can offer you. It’s a great way to learn about all the college options for you as you start filling out those applications.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s completely free and voluntary? You can get this wonderful benefit by just answering “yes” and that’s it. Talk about winning.

When should I take the PSAT?

Now that you are well informed, I’m sure you’re already inclined into taking the PSAT.

So, when is it? When is the best time?

The PSAT is offered nationwide, once a year during fall in October.

At a minimum you should take the PSAT your junior year so you can have the time to look at your detailed results and review them before you take the SAT next—late in your junior year or early in your senior year.

I say at a minimum because you could also take the PSAT in your sophomore year. You read that right, it’s possible!

Well, there are actually new developed versions of PSAT that you could take at different year levels. These are:

  • PSAT – for 10th to 11th grade students
  • PSAT 10 – for 10th grade students
  • PSAT 8/9 – for 8th to 9th grade students

You might think . . . now that’s a lot!

As much as it hurts to hear this, it is not possible to get “too much” practice. Especially when it comes to a test as important as the SAT because it has such a big role in your future educational plans and career.

But since the only year, you can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship is your junior year, don’t you think you might want to give it a practice shot in your sophomore year?

To, you know, improve your skills and chances?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

Hence, I would recommend taking a first shot at the PSAT your sophomore year for an extra and worth it practice.

Remember the goal: better preparation for SAT, scholarship, and then eventually acceptance to dream your college.


The PSAT or the Preliminary SAT is an exam that you can take before the actual SAT. It is designed to help you prepare more and better for the SAT.

And it’s an important test because it can get you qualified for a life-changing scholarship, and it helps you find information about colleges.  (Not to mention the fact that it actually does prepare you!)

So the bottom line is, do not blow PSAT off—prepare for it instead, and you’ll see it pay off in no time!

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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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