An Overview of the PSAT
The Preliminary SAT, like the SAT, is a creation of the College Board, and it is generally taken by students during the fall of their junior year. PSAT scores are not used during the college admissions process; instead, the test serves both as practice for the SAT and as an opportunity for students to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Students seeking recognition in the annual National Merit Scholarship competition often spend a month or two preparing for the October test during their junior years in order to maximize their chances for recognition.
The PSAT is comprised of four primarily multiple-choice sections and is organized as follows:
- 47 questions divide among five passages
- 60 minutes
- Writing & Language
- 44 questions divided among four passages
- 35 minutes
- Math No Calculator
- 13 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- 25 minutes
- Math with Calculator
- 27 multiple-choice questions
- 4 grid-in questions
- 45 minutes
The content of the PSAT is very similar to that of the SAT; however, most PSAT sections are slightly shorter, in terms of both the number of questions and the time allotted to complete the section, and the ceiling of question difficulty is a bit lower than on the SAT. Our PSAT programs focus on mastering strategies and learning content that will both improve a student’s chances of scoring highly on the PSAT and begin preparing them for the SAT.
You’ll receive a raw score for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the PSAT that is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section; no penalty is applied for incorrect answers. Your raw scores for the two Math sections will be added together to produce a single overall Math raw score.
Then, using a process called equating, the PSAT will produce a scaled score from 160 to 760 for Math and from 80 to 380 for each of the other two sections; these scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the sections that you completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed, which ensures that scores from different versions of the PSAT are comparable.
Finally, your three scaled scores will be added together to produce an overall composite score from 320 to 1520; this score is the best single measure of your performance on the test, and it’s the score that will be used to judge your candidacy for a National Merit Scholarship.
As cosponsor of the test, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and the information students provide on their answer sheets. NMSC then computes a Selection Index score for each student by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores. This Selection Index will appear on your PSAT score report, and it will be used by NMSX to identify program Semifinalists, each of whom will be notified directly by their high schools. Recognition is determined on a state-by-state basis, with the top 1% in each state qualifying as Semifinalists. Among that group, about 15,000 students move on to become National Merit Finalists and win scholarship money. For complete details on the program, visit the NMSC’s website or talk with your school counselors.
Registration and Test Dates
The PSAT is administered through each student’s high school on dates determined by the school. Generally, this date falls somewhere between October 10 and October 24. There is also a PSAT 10 that is sometimes taken by 10th graders and serves as a warm-up for the PSAT; the PSAT 10 is generally administered in the spring of a student’s sophomore year.
Most students will not prepare for the PSAT unless they intended to seek recognition in the National Merit program. Because those students are by definition seeking scores among the top 1% of students in their state, the preparation tends to be highly customized to the needs of each student. Such programs typically begin in the later half of the summer before the student’s junior year and run right up to the test day itself. And because the significant overlap between the PSAT and SAT, most of these students then continue on with SAT preparation through the winter of that year.
When it comes to the PSAT, we understand that the structure of the test is part of the challenge of the test; it takes more than just memorizing the quadratic formula to ace the PSAT Math section. Typical homework in our PSAT programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps the most important component – timed test sections. This blend of practice will ensure that you’re addressing every element needed to be successful on the PSAT, from content to timing to overall strategy, and your tutor will go over each assignment with you question by question to maximize what your results.
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To learn more about how we can help you prep for the PSAT, schedule a free consultation with one of our Program Coordinators today!