what is PSAT

What is the PSAT? Practice Test Included

The PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Administered by the College Board, it’s a standardized test that helps high school students prepare for a major college entrance exam and a prestigious merit-based scholarship.

Created as a practice test for high schoolers who are planning on taking the SAT, the PSAT helps boost college admissions chances by improving SAT performance. In addition, the PSAT serves as a qualifying exam for college-bound teens who are interested in winning the National Merit Scholarship Program.

This post contains some of the most essential things you need to know about the PSAT.

Is the PSAT Important for College Admissions?

The PSAT is not an important standardized test for college admissions. That’s because it’s not considered as one of those college admissions tests such as the SAT and ACT that test-required and test-optional institutions take into account in the admissions process. As a matter of fact, the College Board does not send PSAT scores to colleges.

While the PSAT won’t have a direct impact on your chances of getting an acceptance letter from your top-choice school, it can, however, determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship.

Do You Have to Take the PSAT?

Some high schools require students to take the PSAT, and most of them take care of the registration fee, too. Otherwise, it’s completely up to the high schooler to decide whether or not they will sit for the PSAT.

However, being the PSAT/NMSQT, those who wish to apply for the National Merit Scholarship Program should take the standardized test in the 11th grade.

It may be a practice test for the SAT alright, but the PSAT is not a prerequisite for taking the SAT.

Read Also: 13 College Entrance Exams And When To Take Them

Can Colleges See How Many Times You Took the PSAT?

Colleges cannot see how many times applicants took the PSAT. Other than not being an important part of the college admissions process, the College Board does not send PSAT scores to institutions of higher education. Throughout their high school careers, teens can only take the PSAT, which is administered only once a year, up to 3 times.

For high schoolers who like to boost their chances of winning the National Merit Scholarship, taking the PSAT 1 or 2 times before their junior year may be done. It can also help increase their SAT scores and, ultimately, college admissions chances.

What is on the PSAT?

The components of the PSAT are the very same components of the SAT. After all, it serves as a practice test for the SAT. While it’s made up of 3 tests, there are only 2 primary sections of the PSAT: the Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EWRB) and Math sections. However, unlike in the SAT, test-takers will encounter a few write-in questions, too, in the PSAT.

According to the PSAT website itself, some of the math questions will require you to write an answer instead of choosing it.

How Many Sections are on the PSAT?

The 2 main sections of the PSAT are the EWRB section and the Math section. The EBRW section is made up of Reading and Writing & Language. The Math section, on the other hand, consists of 2 sub-sections: the no-calculator section and the calculator-optional section. There is no optional Essay section on the PSAT, such as the case with the SAT in the past.

Even though the PSAT is a slightly shorter and slightly easier version of the SAT, therefore making it a practice test, both standardized tests are pretty much similar. And that is why the PSAT can help prepare you better for the SAT.

How Many Questions is the PSAT?

The PSAT has a total of 139 questions — the vast majority of them are multiple-choice questions, while a few of them, which are found in the Math section of the PSAT, are write-in questions. Of all the sections, the Math section has the most number of questions. The Writing & Language component of the EWRB section, meanwhile, has the least number of questions.

Here’s a table showing the number of questions each section of the PSAT has:

SectionNumber of Questions
Writing & Language44
Math48 (31 for the calculator-optional section and 17 for the no-calculator section)

What Kind of Math is on the PSAT?

The Math section of the PSAT focuses on various areas of mathematics that play the biggest role in numerous academic majors and minors. The College Board refers to the various types of math included in the PSAT as Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math and Additional Topics in Math.

Below is a description of the math kinds you will encounter when sitting for the PSAT:

  • Heart of Algebra – knowledge of linear equations and systems
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis – problem analysis and obtaining information from data
  • Passport to Advanced Math – questions involving the manipulation of equations
  • Additional Topics in Math – college-relevant geometry and trigonometry

Is There Science on the PSAT?

Even though there is no section on the PSAT that’s dedicated to science, some passages are science-related. For instance, the Reading portion of the EBRW section has either 1 or 2 science passages as well as a set of paired science passages, all of which contain a lot of technical terms and jargon that set them apart from other passages.

Both the PSAT and SAT do not have any science sections. On the other hand, the ACT has a science section, which makes it more appealing to some high school teens who consider science as their strength.

Is There Writing on the PSAT?

The PSAT has a Writing section, which is a part of the Writing & Language component of the EBRW section. The Writing section requires test-takers to read passages and then find mistakes and/or weaknesses and correct them. Despite the name, the Writing section contains multiple-choice questions and does not require students to write something.

An argument, informative or explanatory text, or a nonfiction narrative — these are the kinds of passages you will have to carefully read to answer the questions in the PSAT’s Writing section.

How Does the PSAT Work?

In this part of the post, we will discuss various things related to taking the PSAT, including how your test will be scored and what score you should get to impress colleges and qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.

What Does the PSAT Measure?

The PSAT is structured very similarly to the SAT, for which it serves as a practice test. It goes without saying that the PSAT is designed to measure the same things that the SAT is meant to measure. They are reading, writing and math skills that high school students learn in the classroom, all of which are necessary for college and career success.

Because the PSAT can be taken in as early as the 9th grade, the PSAT cannot necessarily determine a student’s college readiness. However, it can help ascertain whether or not a teen is on the right track through grade-level benchmarks.

Is the PSAT Multiple Choice?

Most of the questions on the PSAT are multiple-choice kinds, and each multiple-choice question is accompanied by 4 answer choices. While there are multiple-choice questions in the Math section of the PSAT, some of them require test-takers to write in their answers rather than select them. All in all, there are 8 write-in questions on the PSAT.

Questions where students have to provide their responses are also referred to as grid-in questions or simply grid-ins as they need to enter their answers in the grids found on the answer sheet.

Is the PSAT a Standardized Test?

The PSAT is a standardized test because it is given to high schoolers in a consistent or standard fashion. This means that all the questions on the test are all the same for all students no matter which high school they are attending.

Also making the PSAT a standardized type of examination is the fact that it’s scored the same for all those who take it.

Being the PSAT/NMSQT, the PSAT is also a standardized eligibility exam for the National Merit Scholarship.

When Do You Take the PSAT Test?

Most high school students take the PSAT in the 11th grade. Other than giving them practice for the SAT, it also enables them to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

However, the PSAT can also be taken during the freshman and sophomore years of high school, but it won’t serve as a qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship.

There is no use for any high schooler to take the PSAT in the 12th grade.

How to Guess on the PSAT

The right way to guess on the PSAT is to eliminate at least 1 incorrect answer among the answer choices, which gives the test-taker 1 in 3 chances of making the right guess. On the other hand, eliminating 2 incorrect answers among the answer choices makes it possible for the student taking the PSAT to get the right answer on a 50/50 basis.

Because there is no wrong-answer penalty on the PSAT, it’s generally a good idea for high schoolers who don’t know the answer to make a guess instead of leaving a question unanswered.

How Long is the PSAT?

It takes 2 hours and 45 minutes (with breaks) to complete taking the PSAT. Test-takers are given 70 minutes to complete the Math section, which has a total of 48 questions — 31 questions for the calculator-optional section and 17 questions for the no-calculator section.

Meanwhile, students have up to 95 minutes to complete the EBRW section, which has a total of 91 questions.

Here’s a table showing the breakdown of the PSAT’s testing time:

Reading60 minutes
Writing & Language35 minutes
Math70 minutes

How Does PSAT Scoring Work?

Each section of the PSAT is scored on a scale of as low as 160 to as high as 760. The scores test-takers get in both sections of the standardized test are added, resulting in their PSAT composite score. So, in other words, the overall PSAT score can range anywhere from 320 to 1520, which may help predict the SAT composite scores of a test-taker.

There is no such thing as a failing score on the PSAT.

What is a Good PSAT Score?

Generally speaking, a good PSAT score is a composite score of 1070 or higher, which puts the high school student in the top 25% of all test-takers. An excellent score, which is between 1210 and 1520, puts the teen in the top 10% of all test-takers. For eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program, a student must be in the top 1% of all test-takers.

Other than increasing your chances of getting an SAT composite score that can help you get into your top-choice college, getting a high PSAT score can also make it possible for you to win the National Merit Scholarship.

Facts About the PSAT

Let’s talk about some important matters you need to know about the PSAT, including its beginnings, how many high school students take it every year and whether or not it comes with an optional Essay section.

History of the PSAT

The PSAT, like the SAT, was created by the College Board. It was in 1959 when the PSAT was administered for the very first time.

In 1971, the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is a US academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships and is not related to the College Board, adopted the PSAT as its qualifying examination.

More than 30 years after the SAT came into being, the PSAT was administered to help high school students prepare for the SAT. In the past, some intellectual clubs used PSAT scores in admitting new members.

Who Created the PSAT?

It was the College Board that designed the PSAT, whose goal was to serve as a preliminary exam for the SAT. The non-profit organization decided to come up with the standardized test to provide high school students with the opportunity to prepare for the SAT and thus allow them to increase their chances of getting admitted to college.

Eventually, as mentioned earlier, it was used as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship.

What is the College Board?

The College Board is an organization that designs and administers standardized tests as well as develops curricula for use by K-12 and institutions of higher education for the promotion of college readiness. The non-profit was established in 1900 by representatives of a total of 13 academic institutions at the University of Columbia.

Although it’s not an association of colleges, many postsecondary institutions are members of the College Board. As of this writing, there are more than 6,000 schools that are approved members.

How Many People Take the PSAT?

Around 3.5 million high school students take the PSAT. They consist of sophomore and junior high schoolers across the US. The College Board itself says that in the academic year 2021 to 2022, around 3.6 million students took the PSAT.

Meanwhile, over 1.5 million entrants for The National Merit Scholarship Program who meet other requirements take the PSAT.

More high schoolers take the SAT than the ACT. It’s therefore safe to assume that more students also take the PSAT than the PreACT, which is the counterpart of the PSAT.

What is the PSAT Designed to Predict?

The PSAT is designed to predict the SAT scores of high school students and, ultimately, their college readiness given that the SAT is primarily designed for such a purpose.

By taking the PSAT, test-takers know their strong points and, more importantly, their weak spots so that they can take the necessary steps to prepare for the SAT and get good scores.

Want to have an idea of how you may score on the SAT based on your PSAT scores? Online, you can easily access PSAT to SAT conversion tools and charts, most of which are free of charge.

Does the PSAT Have an Essay?

There is no Essay section of the PSAT. The standardized test has 2 main sections, the EBRW section and Math section, and nothing else. In the past, the SAT used to have an optional Essay section but the College Board decided to stop offering it altogether.

On the other hand, the PSAT never had an optional Essay section from the get-go.

Preparing for the Essay section on the SAT by means of an Essay section on the PSAT is completely pointless given that the said section of the SAT became optional in 2016 and unavailable in 2021.

Does the PSAT Provide Calculators?

The PSAT does not provide test-takers calculators. High school students who are sitting for the PSAT must bring their own approved calculators with them to their respective high schools, where the PSATs are administered. Similarly, test-takers are not allowed to share calculators and use them on the Math no-calculator portion and EBRW portion.

Here’s a list of all allowed calculator models from the College Board itself.

PSAT is Changing – Paper Based vs. Digital

The PSAT will be administered in digital format, and its paper and pencil format will cease to exist.

Since it was first taken by students preparing for the SAT back in 1959, it underwent 3 major changes in its format and content as well as how it’s scored. The said changes happened in 1997, 2005 and 2015.

In the fall of 2023, the PSAT will once again go through a significant change in that it will be administered in digital format.

The College Board chose the said date so that high school students who will be taking the digital SAT as juniors in the spring of 2024 will have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to take the standardized test in its entirely new format.

The National Merit Scholarship Program will still use the digital PSAT as its qualifying exam.

When Does the PSAT Go Digital?

As mentioned earlier, the PSAT will go digital in the fall of 2023. From that time onward, the paper and pencil format of the PSAT will no longer be made available by the College Board.

How to Study for the PSAT

According to the PSAT website itself, studying for the standardized test requires making a study plan, creating a realistic goal, taking practice tests and targeting areas that require improvement.

It’s a good thing that free PSAT test preps are available from the College Board and various sources, too.

Undergoing practice tests when preparing for the PSAT is an important step high school teeners should take. Not only will it allow them to become familiar with the PSAT exam experience but also enable them to determine areas that require more attention. This way, they can quit wasting time reviewing things they already know.

It’s recommended to start gearing up for the PSAT about 3 months before the test date. However, it’s a smart move to start preparing for it, which is administered every October of the year, at the start of the school year.

PSAT Practice Test

In this part of the post, I will give you a total of 10 sample PSAT questions — 5 of them are from the Writing & Language portion of the EWRB section, while the other 5 are from the Math section.

Let’s start with a short reading passage:

Vanishing Honeybees: A Threat to Global Agriculture

Honeybees play an important role in the agriculture industry by pollinating crops. An October 2006 study found that as much as one-third of global agriculture depends on animal pollination, including honeybee (12) pollination — to increase crop output. The importance of bees (13) highlights the potentially disastrous affects of an emerging, unexplained crisis: entire colonies of honeybees are dying off without warning.

(14) They know it as colony collapse disorder (CCD), this phenomenon will have a detrimental impact on global agriculture if its causes and solutions are not determined. Since the emergence of CCD around 2006, bee mortality rates have (15) exceeded 25 percent of the population each winter. There was one sign of hope: during the 2010–2012 winter seasons, bee mortality rates decreased slightly, and beekeepers speculated that the colonies would recover. Yet in the winter of 2012–2013, the (16) portion of the bee population lost fell nearly 10 percent in the United States, with a loss of 31 percent of the colonies that pollinate crops.


Q 1.

  • B) pollination: this is
  • C) pollination,
  • D) pollination;

Q 2.

  • B) highlights the potentially disastrous effects
  • C) highlight the potentially disastrous effects
  • D) highlight the potentially disastrous affects

Q 3.

  • B) Known as colony
  • C) It is known as colony
  • D) Colony

Q 4. Which choice offers the most accurate interpretation of the data in the chart?

  • B) been above the acceptable range.
  • C) not changed noticeably from year to year.
  • D) greatly increased every year.

Q 5. Which choice offers an accurate interpretation of the data in the chart?

  • B) portion of bees lost was double what it had been the previous year, rising to
  • C) number of losses, which had fallen within the acceptable range the previous year, rose to
  • D) portion of total colonies lost rose almost 10 percentage points, with a loss of

Answer key:

  • 1. C
  • 2. B
  • 3. B
  • 4. B
  • 5. D

The following, meanwhile, are 5 sample test questions for the PSAT’s Math portion:

1. A soda company is filling bottles of soda from a tank that contains 500 gallons of soda. At most, how many 20-ounce bottles can be filled from the tank? (1 gallon = 128 ounces)

  • A) 25
  • B) 78
  • C) 2,560
  • D) 3,200

2. A car traveled at an average speed of 80 miles per hour for 3 hours and consumed fuel at a rate of 34 miles per gallon. Approximately how many gallons of fuel did the car use for the entire 3-hour trip?

  • A) 2
  • B) 3
  • C) 6
  • D) 7

3. A high school basketball team won exactly 65 percent of the games it played during last season. Which of the following could be the total number of games the team played last season?

  • A) 22
  • B) 20
  • C) 18
  • D) 14

4. Janice puts a fence around her rectangular garden. The garden has a length that is 9 feet less than 3 times its width. What is the perimeter of Janice’s fence if the area of her garden is 5,670 square feet?

  • A) 342 feet
  • B) 318 feet
  • C) 300 feet
  • D) 270 feet

5. Tyra subscribes to an online gaming service that charges a monthly fee of $5.00 and $0.25 per hour for time spent playing premium games. Which of the following functions gives Tyra’s cost, in dollars, for a month in which she spends x hours playing premium games?

  • A) C (x) = 5.25x
  • B) C (x) = 5x + 0.25
  • C) C (x) = 5 + 0.25x
  • D) C (x) = 5 + 25x

Answer key:

  • 1. D
  • 2. D
  • 3. B
  • 4. A
  • 5. C

The sample questions above are from the following site:

Should I Take the PSAT?

In some instances, high schoolers have no choice but to take the PSAT, which costs $18, because the schools they are attending require it — most of the time, though, high schools take care of the registration cost.

Otherwise, it’s completely up to the students to decide whether or not to sit for the PSAT.

Taking the PSAT, however, comes with benefits. For instance, since it’s designed as a preliminary exam for the SAT, teens who undergo it can prepare much better for the SAT, thus allowing them to get good scores and increase their college admissions chances. High PSAT scores also allow high schoolers to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Read Next: What is SAT?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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