The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in the United States. It is often taken by high school students during the fall of their junior year.

What’s on the PSAT?

Reading (60 Minutes)

Students answer 47 questions from one literature excerpt, one historical document, one humanities passage, and two science-themed articles.

Writing (35 Minutes)

44 questions test students’ understanding of standard english conventions (punctuation, sentence structure, and usage) and logical organization and development of ideas.

Math (Two sections: 25 minutes no-calculator, 45 minutes calculator active)

The math score is based on two sections, the first with 17 questions and the second with 31 questions. There are three major question categories:

• Heart of Algebra (linear and quadratic equations and systems)

• Problem Solving and Data Analysis (interpreting graphs and charts and using basing statistical operations)

• Advanced Math (understanding and manipulating complex equations)

The majority of the content focuses on pre-Algebra and Algebra skills; Geometry accounts for a very small portion of the test.

Why take the PSAT?

The primary benefit of taking the PSAT is gaining familiarity and comfort with the experience of taking an admissions test without the pressure, as PSAT scores are not sent to the colleges to which a student applies. The results provide feedback that can help guide future test preparation. Students who take the PSAT are entered into the competition for National Merit Scholarships; very few students will ultimately receive this scholarship.

Why skip the PSAT?

For most, scholarship eligibility is not a sufficient reason to take the PSAT: very few students (far less than 1%) ultimately receive a National Merit scholarship. Because many students take the ACT rather than the SAT, the PSAT is not necessarily representative of a student’s admissions testing experience, nor is it essential to a program of test preparation. Additionally, the results of the PSAT take a while to come back, diminishing their usefulness.

How does the PSAT compare with the SAT?

The two tests are very similar in structure and content. The PSAT is somewhat easier as it is written for students taking it in the fall, rather than spring, of junior year. Each PSAT score is out of 760 points, while the SAT is out of 800. This allows for reasonable score concordance between the two tests. The PSAT also has fewer questions than the SAT, and there is no optional essay portion.

When will results be available?

PSAT results are typically available in December. High school counselors receive the scores and then distribute them to students. Scores are available on College Board’s website approximately one week after they are sent to high schools.


By Matt McNicholas, Open Door Education Master Tutor & Co-Owner