An Overview of the PSAT and PSAT Test Prep

The Preliminary SAT, which is also called the PSAT/NMSQT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is part of the College Board’s suite of assessments for college preparedness. The PSAT test serves two primary purposes at once: it prepares students for the SAT and is a scholarship opportunity. The format of the test and the questions themselves are what students can expect to find on the SAT. However, the sections are usually a bit shorter in both time allotted and the number of questions to answer. The PSAT test is typically taken by students in the fall of their junior year. Local schools administer the PSAT and test registration. The test date is typically in October, but it will also be offered in January 2021. All tests are administered in person and there is no online PSAT test offered by College Board at this time. Inspirica’s PSAT prep often takes learners through the PSAT into the SAT.

PSAT Test Format

The PSAT is created to measure students’ abilities in three areas and is mostly comprised of multiple-choice questions. The PSAT format is designed to prepare students for the SAT and follows the same content. However, most PSAT sections are slightly shorter, in terms of both the number of questions and the time allotted to complete the section. Subsequently, the ceiling of question difficulty is a bit lower than on the actual 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.

Reading

  • 60 minutes
  • 47 multiple-choice questions
  • 5 passages
    • 1 literature passage, 1 passage from a US founding document or famous global speech, 1 passage from the social sciences, 2 science passages
    • 1 of the passages will be a pair of passages

The reading portion of the PSAT will require students to read a published excerpt and occasionally interpret visual data. The questions ask you to locate and interpret important pieces of information within the passage or given information.

Writing & Language

  • 35 minutes
  • 44 multiple-choice questions

The name of this section is a bit misleading, because students will not do any actual writing. Instead, the PSAT Writing and Language section requires students to edit printed works. This section tests for sentence development, grammar, and the ability to organize a passage effectively. Students will need to be able to recognize problems and then fix them.

Math

  • Split into two sections but part of one score:
    • Math with no calculator
      • 25 minutes
      • 13 multiple-choice questions
      • 4 grid-in questions
    • Math with a calculator
      • 45 minutes
      • 27 multiple-choice questions
      • 4 grid-in questions

The PSAT math section focuses on problems that are modeled after real-world situations. Many questions subsequently require multiple steps and finding the most effective way to answer them is important. The math section is unique in the PSAT because there are 8 questions, four in each section, that are not multiple choice and require the students to find solutions independently.

PSAT Scoring

Raw Score

You’ll receive a raw score for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the PSAT. This score is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section. No penalty is applied for incorrect answers on the PSAT. Your raw scores for the two Math sections will be added together, producing a single overall Math raw score.

Equating

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. This process ensures that scores from different versions of the PSAT are comparable.

Composite Score

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. This is also the score that will be used to judge your candidacy for a National Merit Scholarship.

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 Semifinalist 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.

PSAT Registration and Test Dates

The PSAT registration 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. Beginning in 2021, College Board will also offer a January test date. This will be in addition to the traditional October test. 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. The PSAT 10 registration is also administered locally by each school. To address Covid-19 and health concerns, students taking the PSAT in 2020 and 2021 can expect extra guidelines put in place based on current CDC recommendations. These typically include mask requirements and physical spacing of 6 feet or more.

Inspirica’s Approach to PSAT Test Prep

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 summer before the student’s junior year and run right up to 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 PSAT test prep, 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 include: 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. During sessions, your tutor will go over each assignment with you question by question to maximize your results. We utilize online tools to facilitate safe and effective PSAT prep in a one-on-one setting.

Agnostic Diagnostic

For students who are not sure whether they should be taking the SAT or ACT, we have the answer. Students who use our Agnostic Diagnostic test to get a personalized recommendation on which test is best based on their learning style. Our Agnostic Diagnostic is a proprietary test that simulates both the ACT and SAT within one test. We help make test selection easy!

Get Started with PSAT Test Prep Today

To learn more about how we can help you prep for the PSAT, schedule a free consultation with one of our Program Coordinators today!

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