The PSAT/NMSQT® test is less than a month away, and it’s time to discuss why every college-bound 10th and 11th grader should consider taking the PSAT test.
While the PSAT test is not required for your college applications, a good score could open the door to scholarships and help prepare you for the SAT® test.
In this blog, we’ll go over what the PSAT test is, why it matters, and how to prepare for it.
What is the PSAT?
The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a practice version of the SAT test. Scores from the PSAT are used to determine National Merit® Semifinalist status.
What is National Merit?
The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic scholarship competition that originated in 1955. Every year, the organization screens PSAT scores for 11th graders throughout the United States to determine which students qualify as National Merit Semifinalists.
Read more about how to become a National Merit Scholar.
What is the PSAT test like?
The PSAT test consists of four parts: Reading, Writing and Language, Math without Calculator, and Math with Calculator.
- 60 minutes
- 47 questions
- Multiple choice
- About 1 minute, 16 seconds per question
Writing and Language
- 35 minutes
- 44 questions
- Multiple choice
- About 47 seconds per question
Math without Calculator
- 25 minutes
- 17 questions
- Multiple choice and grid-ins
- About 1 minute, 28 seconds per question
Math with Calculator
- 45 minutes
- 31 questions
- Multiple choice and grid-ins
- About 1 minute, 27 seconds per question
Why Does the PSAT Test Matter?
1. A good PSAT score can help you earn scholarships
If your 11th grade PSAT test score qualifies you for National Merit Semifinalist status, you will be eligible to move forward in the National Merit scholarship competition.
Every National Merit Finalist receives a $2,500 scholarship. In addition, you may receive corporate-sponsored and college-sponsored scholarships if you meet additional criteria.
If you qualify as a National Merit Semifinalist, Finalist, or Scholar, this should also become an important note on your college resume.
2. The PSAT test can help prepare you for the SAT and ACT® tests.
The PSAT test is a preliminary version of the SAT test. Since it consists of a similar format, taking the PSAT test early on in high school can help prepare you for both the SAT and ACT tests.
“So, let me get this straight, colleges don’t care about my PSAT score?”
It’s true that your SAT and ACT test scores are required in college applications, not your PSAT test score. However, as previously noted, National Merit status may help make your college application stand out.
Think about it this way: Do colleges care about your overall grades? Yes, of course.
Their attitude toward the PSAT test is kind of like that. Earning a high score or National Merit recognition is just another chance to impress them.
When Should I Take the PSAT Test?
In high school, you’ll have three opportunities to take the PSAT test—in October of your 9th, 10th, and 11th grade years.
The 9th and 10th grade tests are literally just for practice. Your scores on those tests won’t be assessed by National MeritⓇ. However, taking the test early on in high school will give you a good indicator of your progress on the test itself and the areas in which you’ll need to improve your performance.
It’s the junior year PSAT test that’s considered the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). You should prepare thoroughly so that you can aim to score in the top 1% of test takers in your state.
Please note: If you don’t qualify, nothing bad happens to you.
We definitely recommend taking the test in your sophomore year to identify what areas you need to focus on before taking the official PSAT/NMSQT test in 11th grade.
How Do I Register for the PSAT Test?
Registration for the PSAT test is different at every school. To register, follow these steps:
- Find out if your school offers the test by using College Board’s Public Search.
- Contact your school counselor for help registering for the test.
- Follow your school counselor’s instructions.
In September, your school should provide you with information about taking the PSAT test, so keep an eye out.
How Do I Prep for the PSAT Test?
There are a couple of approaches to getting ready for the PSAT test.
- Winging It – Not preparing at all and just seeing how you do is an option that many people take.
If you want to play Bach on the violin, do 50 pushups, or learn to speak French, you have to practice pretty much every day over a long period of time.
It’s the same with the PSAT test.
At KD College Prep, you’ll take a set of lessons annually to give you instruction on techniques, attend workshops to give you focused practice opportunities, take practice tests to apply those techniques in real time, and review your performance to improve your strategy for next time.
Bonus tips for studying for the PSAT test:
1. Start early
The earlier you start preparing for the PSAT test, the more time you’ll have to master the content. We recommend starting to prepare for the PSAT at the beginning of high school to reach your best scores.
2. Take a practice test
At KD College Prep, we offer practice tests modeled after the PSAT test to help you prepare. After you take a practice test, you’ll attend an instructor-led review where you’ll be able to learn the correct answers and how to solve for them.
We also recommend that you take the PSAT test offered at your high school in 10th grade for added practice. While your scores won’t matter for this test, you’ll be able to experience the PSAT test in the same testing environment in which you’ll take it in 11th grade.
3. Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Review the results on your graded practice tests to help gauge what areas you need to work on most.
4. Time yourself
While completing sample questions and practice tests, make sure to time yourself. This will help you read and answer questions in an efficient manner. The more you practice, the less likely you’ll be to rush through questions during the actual test.
5. Use the process of elimination
Practice an elimination technique to help you narrow down multiple choice options as you go. This will allow you to pinpoint the correct answer faster.
6. Take breaks
All too often students will spend hours studying dense and complex material without taking breaks. It takes time for your brain to build the connections to the material necessary for deep comprehension. If your brain is tired or overwhelmed from an information overload, you’re even less likely to retain the material.
We recommend taking 30-minute breaks in between long study sessions to give your brain a rest. Use this as an opportunity to reward yourself for sticking to it.
7. Don’t wait until the night before
Relax and get plenty of sleep the night before a test. Cramming at the last minute tends to be ineffective and will increase your stress levels, hence affecting your performance.
What Is an Ideal PSAT Score?
The PSAT test is scored with a range from 320 to 1520, with the average score falling in the 900s.
Now, more than one million high school juniors take the PSAT test each year, and only about 55,000 qualify as National Merit Semifinalists. That’s 0.055% of test takers.
The exact National Merit qualifying score depends on your state, but you’ll almost certainly want a 1420 or higher. To find out if your PSAT test score is satisfactory or not, read “What Is a Good PSAT Test Score?”
Bottom line: Study and practice for your junior year PSAT test to try to qualify for scholarships and recognition.