Last Updated: February 01, 2023
What is PSAT?
PSAT means Preliminary SAT, which checks the understanding of subjects and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the students in the U.S. It is according to the grades achieved in this test that students can measure the prospect of appearing for the official SAT exam and find whether they have the expertise required for higher studies in colleges/ universities. It is also known as the PSAT/NMSQT where NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Primarily, it is a precursor to the SAT and has three sections that include Maths, Critical Reading, and Writing skills.
The test is conducted by the College Board of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and a student may take PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or PSAT 8/9 depending on their grade level. Students who take the tests can qualify for scholarships as per their scores. The test is very effective for students, and a good number of practice sessions help in determining how the test can be given and what courses of action the student might be able to take in order to crack the test with decent marks. The test, though, does not influence a student's university admission.
Who Can Apply for PSAT?
The PSAT test is generally taken by 10th or 11th graders who wish to eventually take the SAT examination. Though the exam can provide experience for SAT aspirants, it is mostly taken by students who wish to receive the National Merit Scholarship which is based on the marks one receives for the PSAT examination.
Eligibility Requirements for PSAT
Undergraduate students can apply for the PSAT. Students can take the test once a year. Most prefer to take the test in their 10th and 11th-grade levels since earning a relatively high score in the junior year makes one qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. The primary reasons for opting for the tests are generally as follows-
- To gain insights and feedback about areas where the student can show improvement. This enables the student to work on their weak areas and prepare to avail admission to a college of their choice.
- To compete for scholarships from NMSC.
- To get an idea of what to expect for the official SAT exam and how to approach SAT effectively.
Cost of Taking PSAT
The cost of the test is $18. The PSAT cost is to be paid to the school which conducts the test to complete the registration process for the test. Sometimes the schools might cover part of the cost that the student has to pay which will result in a relatively low amount. Some other schools might charge additional amounts for administering the test on their premises. Kindly contact one’s school for further information regarding the same. The fee waiver facility is also available for 11th-grade students who are from low-income families. But this has to be sought after by the student through the counselor or the administrative departments within the school.
How to Register/Apply for PSAT?
Students who wish to take the PSAT test will have to enquire whether the institution they are studying in provides the PSAT test. If their school does not provide the PSAT, they will have to persuade the administration to register for the same so as to take the test. If their institution provides the test, they will be able to find the PSAT Registration Deadline and Test Date from the administration of the institution.
Now, candidates will also have the option of signing up for the test by paying the fee for PSAT test books. Some institutions charge an additional fee for administering the test.
Test Dates for PSAT
The PSAT test is administered by the institution in which the student is studying and not the College Board. The test is generally offered by institutions on a date mostly in October which is convenient for them. The dates are generally termed a primary test day, Saturday test day, and alternate test day.
Syllabus and Test Structure for PSAT
The test which is conducted within 3 hours (including breaks) has a total of 2 sections with 2 subsections each. The four timed sections in all are Evidence-based Reading, Writing and Language, Maths with a calculator, and Maths without a calculator. This structure is exactly similar to that of SAT giving the student an exact idea of how the official test works.
- Writing skill section checks the student's understanding of the English language. They are evaluated on the basis of analyzing the usage, structure, grammar, continuity, etc. of language. Students might be asked to determine erroneous sentences and point out the mistakes in the sentence structures if any. Students are also required to find alternate words/phrases instead of a portion of a sentence. There are paragraphs as well which ought to be modified and corrected as per the standard English comprehension rules.
- Critical reading/Evidence-based reading section checks the way students comprehend the passages and how perfectly they interpret the essence of the sentences /paragraphs. Students may read a passage, understand it and then provide answers to the related questions. Passages are generally taken from fields like World Literature, Social Science/History, or Science. It helps if the student has a good vocabulary and writing skills. The section is one of the easiest to crack requires prowess only in language and the basic aspects of language learning.
- Math section, checks the basic application skills the student possesses from what they have learned in school. Topics like geometry, measurement, data analysis, statistics, algebra, and probability are mostly asked. There are multiple-choice questions that involve picking the right answer from the options and grid-in questions where students solve the maths questions and write their answers. Mimicking the official test, there are two sections here with one allowing the use of calculators and the other without. The section that allows the use of calculators includes more grid-in questions than the latter. Grid-in questions, in this context, are questions that do not have optional answers offered. The student has to calculate and physically write in the answer required.
Test Duration for PSAT
The total time allotted for the test is 2 hours and 45 minutes and almost 3 hours including breaks. Each section has a specific time stipulated within which the section ought to be completed. This depends on the number of questions each section contains and the weightage of marks for the problems in question.
The evidence-based Reading section is given a total of 60 minutes/ an hour for the 47 questions it contains. The questions may ask one to interpret data from a different perspective or to analyze random hypotheses according to the piece of information provided or implied in the passage given.
The Writing and Language section is given 35 minutes to complete 44 questions. All the questions will be multiple choice ones where candidates are expected to correct grammatical errors or fix sentences in the given passage.
The mathematics section is divided between 25 minutes for solving problems without the calculator and another 45 minutes with the calculator. Here, the number of questions in total is 47.
Calculate PSAT Score
PSAT Scoring is extremely similar to SAT scores. Since there is no negative marking every correct answer adds up to the candidate’s raw score. This is exactly why guessing is promoted instead of leaving unattended questions. The raw score gets converted into a scaled score which will range between 160 to a maximum of 760 in every section.
Understand PSAT score
The composite score will be calculated as a combination of both these scaled scores and will be somewhere between 320 and 1520. They will also add two percentile ranks which compares them to the other test-takers during the same year. The percentile demarcating one’s score will imply that they have performed better than that particular percent of test-takers. For instance, if the percentile awarded is 65%, it implies that the candidate has outperformed 65% of people who have taken the test along with them.
The scaled scores will be accompanied by test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. Here, the test scores will be between 8 and 38 depending upon the performance in the Reading, Writing, and Language sections. It is this score that will be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The cross-test scores stand for the score the candidate achieves for analyzing skills in both Social Science and Science. This will also range from 8 to 38. The subscores will be dependent on the candidate’s language prowess and their knowledge of Mathematics. This will be graded between 1 to 15.
Since PSAT is mostly taken by students who wish to receive the National Merit Scholarship, students generally take it just once in their 11th grade. But students who wish to retake the test will be able to do so three times in total as long as they take it only once a year.
Preparing for PSAT
Students can do several practice tests to get the experience of a PSAT test and to check their understanding. They can use sample test papers from the previous year's test, prep books, or tutorial courses. "The Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT "is considered to be the best source to practice for this test.
Students can also prepare for PSAT/NMSQT and /PSAT 10 by taking up challenging courses, focusing on tests and quizzes, and also being curious about key concepts enough to ask the right questions. Things that are very basic like doing one’s own homework on time will also benefit aspirants of PSAT.
PSAT Test Day Essentials
Bring only the bare essentials required for the exam since being in possession of a lot of materials can cause unnecessary complications
- Bring two pencils with erasers(No.2)
- Calculator that is approved
- Photo ID if not being tested in one's own school.
- EpiPens are allowed without requesting permission
- Do NOT bring any electronic devices including smartwatches
- Do NOT bring protractors, compasses, or rulers
- Do NOT bring highlighters, colored pens/pencils, or mechanical pencils.
- Do NOT bring any kind of papers
- NO food or drink (including water)
Tips to Crack PSAT
- Try answering the easy questions first. Students can attempt the easier questions before striving for the difficult ones.
- It is crucial to read the instructions carefully and to follow all the directions.
- Check the attempted answers. Make sure the writing is legible as the test is machine scored. In case one is hesitant about certain multiple-choice questions, make an educated guess.
- Most importantly, practice! Practice is a must to crack a PSAT test with decent marks.
Strategize smartly on how to finish the test on time, so that one will also have some time to go through the answers and check for mistakes. Remember - 218 is the average cut-off mark for entering the NMSC competition and give one’s best to achieve over and beyond 218 (cut-off varies for each state. These tips and strategies despite sounding common-sensical will aid one immensely in cracking the PSAT.