The PSAT? What is that??
It’s almost time for the PSAT…but what even IS that? Let’s talk through it and see if we can answer all (or most!) of your questions.
What exactly is the PSAT?
Well, it’s two things.
First of all, it’s the Preliminary SAT (shortened to PSAT). As you can guess, then, it’s very much like the SAT. It’s almost like a practice run for the SAT: the content, structure, and scoring are the same.
There are some differences:
· The PSAT is (a little bit) easier.
· The PSAT is shorter and has fewer questions.
· The PSAT has no essay. (Optional on the SAT.)
· The PSAT is given by your school, at your school, on only one specific day.
· The PSAT is not used in college applications/admissions.
Secondly, it’s a scholarship competition. This makes it very different from the SAT. The PSAT is cosponsored by the College Board (who also makes the SAT) and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). This test, the PSAT, is the qualifying exam (the only one!) for those scholarships. Because of that, the PSAT is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).
How do you qualify for these scholarships? Do well on the PSAT, of course! Each year about 1.6 million 11th graders take the PSAT. The top 1% in each state are named as semi-finalists and can move on in the scholarship competition. Sure, that’s not many students, and the odds are not in your favor. However, look at it this way: more than 7,500 students DO get National Merit scholarship money each year! You could be one of them!
When Is the PSAT?
There’s only chance! The PSAT is given once every fall, typically in mid-October. There’s a primary date, a Saturday date, and an alternate date. That’s it. By far, the vast majority of schools give it on the primary date. For 2018, these are the dates:
· Primary Test Date: October 10, 2018
· Saturday Test Date: October 13, 2018
· Alternate Test Date: October 24, 2018
Check with your school counselor to see which date will be used at your school.
What’s on the PSAT?
The PSAT is just like the SAT in structure and in content. There are four sections, in this order:
· Reading: 60 minutes, 47 questions
· Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
· Math (without a calculator): 25 minutes, 17 questions
· Math (with a calculator): 45 minutes, 31 questions
Most questions on the PSAT are multiple choice, but around 8 of the math questions require you to compute your answer and fill in a grid with your answer (without multiple choices).
Why should I take the PSAT?
You may be thinking, “Colleges don’t care about this score, why should I bother?”
Here are some good reasons.
1. It prepares you for the SAT. If you’ll eventually take the SAT, this is a great way to get familiar with the structure and content of the test. Your PSAT score is a good early indicator of what you can expect from your SAT score. (If you plan to take the ACT, this is still good preparation! The ACT and SAT are similar …and not similar. Check out the comparison here!)
2. You might earn a scholarship. The other major reason students take the PSAT is to try to win a National Merit scholarship. Here’s something else to consider: even if you don’t actually get money out of the scholarship competition, just being named as a Commended Student, a Semifinalist, or a Finalist carries weight and brings distinction to your college applications as a senior. Additionally, several other special scholarship and recognition programs are associated with the PSAT. One of these is the National Hispanic Recognition program, which is another unique distinction that can be included on college applications. It’s not a scholarship, but colleges do use this program to identify academically exceptional Hispanic/Latino students.
3. 10th graders can take the PSAT to “practice” for the 11th grade PSAT. Sophomores are not eligible for National Merit consideration, so it doesn’t really “count”. However, there is only chance to take the PSAT before taking the one that does count, so many sophomores choose to take it to see how they do. Check with your school if you are a sophomore and would like to take the PSAT.
4. Your school requires it. Easy decision, then, right?
What’s the bottom line, here?
The bottom line is that your PSAT score is not as important as your SAT or ACT score because it isn’t used for college admissions.
However, if you are hoping and planning to score well on the SAT, this is the place to start. PSAT scores are a solid predictor of your SAT score. A 1250 on the PSAT is the same as a 1250 on the SAT. This can give you a clear idea about where you are (the starting line) and where you’d like to go (the finish line).
In other words, you can use your PSAT score as your baseline SAT score, making it a fairly useful test and score.
If you are a good student with a strong academic background and you typically do well on standardized tests, there may also be National Merit honors (or even money!) in it for you.
Ultimately, how important your PSAT score is depends on what you plan to do with it. If you want to qualify for National Merit or eventually get a high SAT score, it's critical to get a strong start with a good PSAT score.