The Differences Between PSAT and SAT Tests

PSAT vs. SAT: what is the difference, and how different are they really? Both the PSAT and the SAT are tests you might encounter during your college application process. This post will dive into the main differences between PSAT and SAT tests so that you know what to expect no matter what part of the process you’re in. Beginning with a PSAT and SAT comparison and ending with score comparison, this post will prepare you for this important, if not always fun, journey.

PSAT and SAT Comparison

If you’ve heard anything about the PSAT and SAT and how they relate to each other, you might’ve heard that the PSAT is easier. This is true… to a point. The more accurate way to put it is that the PSAT is a shortened version of the SAT with the hardest questions taken out. That doesn’t mean that every question on the PSAT is an easier version of the same question on the SAT though. Most questions could show up on either test, but the hardest questions will likely only show up on the SAT.

As many students take their first PSAT during their sophomore year of high school but wait until junior year to take the SAT, you might think that the PSAT adjusts their content to match the students’ grade level. This, however, isn’t true. The hardest questions on the test might not require the most advanced content knowledge and vice versa. So if you’re taking the PSAT and see something you haven’t learned yet, don’t worry, that’s normal!

Ultimately, what this all means is that the PSAT and SAT are incredibly similar to one another.

PSAT vs. SAT Section Breakdowns

Both the PSAT and SAT have the same four sections, but the timing and number of questions vary slightly. Here’s the breakdown.

  • PSAT
    • Reading Comprehension: 47 questions in 60 minutes
    • Writing & Language: 44 questions in 35 minutes
    • Math – No Calculator: 17 questions in 25 minutes
    • Math – Calculator: 31 questions in 45 minutes
  • SAT
    • Reading Comprehension: 52 questions in 65 minutes
    • Writing & Language: 44 questions in 35 minutes
    • Math – No Calculator: 20 questions in 25 minutes
    • Math – Calculator: 38 questions in 55 minutes
    • Essay (Optional): 1 prompt in 50 minutes

Besides the Writing & Language sections, which are identical on both tests, the PSAT does offer a little more time per question, but the difference in timing is mostly marginal. The other difference you’ll notice is that the SAT includes an optional essay while there is no equivalent on the PSAT.

Comparing Scores

Both the PSAT and SAT provide you with a handful of scores, the most important being your two section scores (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing & Math) and your composite (a sum of your two section scores).

  • PSAT
    • Section scores range from 160-760
    • Composite scores range from 320-1520
  • SAT
    • Section scores range from 200-800
    • Composite scores range from 400-1600

The great news is that PSAT and SAT scores use a vertical score scale, which means you can compare PSAT scores to SAT scores directly. That means that if you scored a 1200 on the PSAT, you’d likely have scored a 1200 (or within that range) had you taken the SAT instead. You can learn more about PSAT and SAT score concordance here.

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