PSAT: The Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test


The Preliminary SAT offers high school students a chance to measure their readiness to take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). It also provides students with an opportunity to qualify for scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. In fact, another name for the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). PSAT measures a student's ability to read critically, solve math problems, and write at college level. Read more to get details on PSAT prep, PSAT practice test, PSAT registration, PSAT test dates and PSAT scores.

Why PSAT is Important?

For students who plan to take the SAT test, taking the PSAT offers an opportunity to see what skills they have mastered and which they still need to improve. PSAT also offer students the chance to earn scholarship money through the NMSQT. Students in their junior year qualify to take this test. If they score high enough, students can qualify for a national merit scholarship amounting to $2,500. Some 8,300 students qualify each year for this award. Also, students who do not qualify for the $2,500 amount, but have good scores are eligible to receive other special scholarships. 

Test Structure

The PSAT test has five sections: two in critical reading, two in math, and one in writing. The total time for the test is two hours and ten minutes. The two reading sections are 25 minutes long. The two math sections are 35 minutes, while the writing section is 30 minutes long. Between each section, the test administrators may give students the chance to stretch and possibly take a break.

Focus Area Coverage Number of Questions Time Duration
Reading Sentence completion, comprehension and critical reading 13 sentence completion; 35 critical reading questions 25 minutes each section
Math Arithmetic  number and operation, geometry, algebra, statistics, probability and data analysis 28 multiple choice; 10 student produced responses 35 minutes each section
Writing Sentence and paragraph correction 39 multiple choice questions 30 minutes

Focus Areas

Reading: includes sentence completion questions. This section tests a student's grasp of vocabulary, sentence structure, and reasoning. The second section in reading focuses on passage reading and comprehension. The student reads a passage then answers a number of questions based on the passage . Again, these are multiple choice questions where the student selects the best answer.

Math: The two sections in math combines multiple choice questions and student produced responses. The multiple choice questions present a problem along with four choices for answers. The student has to complete the requested problem and choose the right answer. Whereas, the student produced responses requires the student to work through the problem and write their answer. The math section tests arithmetic number and operation, geometry  measurement, algebra functions, data analysis, statistics, and probability. The test administrators allow students to use calculators, but all the problems are doable with pen, paper, and mental calculation.

Writing: tests each student's ability to find and correct sentence errors and improve sentences and paragraphs of given text. For each question, the student reviews a sentence or paragraph. Students can choose from five multiple choice options and make their selection.

 Tips to Prepare for PSAT


The first step to scoring is to figure a student's raw score. For each multiple choice question, a student earns a point for a correct answer and looses 1/4 (0.25) of a point for an incorrect answer. Unanswered questions receive no points. For student response answers in the math section, correct answers equal a point while incorrect answers receive no points.

Students get a final score between 20-80. Scores usually go to each student's high school. The scores arrive in early December with online reports becoming available between December and February.


Registration for the PSAT happens at the school level. There is no online registration site for this test. Schools often present registration information to students through programs and flyers. Students can also contact their school counselor to register. For home-schooled children, contacting the local high school will commence the registration process.


The PSAT test fee is $14, though schools generally charge an additional fee for administering this test. 

Test Dates & Location

The PSAT happens on two dates every October. High schools throughout the United States choose one of those two dates. Students usually take the test on the date selected by their high school. However, for students who cannot take the test on that particular date, they can take the test at another high school on the second date.

This exam happens in high schools throughout the world. High schools administer and proctor the exams on site. They send the tests into the PSAT program for evaluation. International students usually take the test at their local high school with an English-speaking  educator on one of the two dates available in October.

International Students

International students should contact their local high school to find out how to take the PSAT. Many schools around the world offer this test for students. For those who do not have a local school offering the test, an individual educator can proctor the exam for the student.