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Students answer 47 questions from one literature excerpt, one historical document, one humanities passage, and two science-themed articles.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) as well as 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 basic statistical operations)

• Passport to 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?

Taking the PSAT can help students gain familiarity with the experience of taking an admissions test, but without the pressure since PSAT scores are not sent to colleges. In addition, the results provide valuable feedback about a student’s strengths and challenges. Students who take the PSAT are entered into the competition for National Merit Scholarships.

Why skip the PSAT?

For most, scholarship eligibility is not a sufficient reason to take the PSAT; very few students (<1%) ultimately receive a National Merit Scholarship. Additionally, if a student is better suited to the ACT, then the PSAT may not be a helpful preview of admissions testing.

How does the PSAT compare with the SAT?

The SAT and PSAT are very similar in structure and content, but there are a few notable differences, including:

• The PSAT is slightly shorter and not quite as difficult as the SAT

• The PSAT does not include an optional Essay section

• Each section of the PSAT has a maximum score of 760, and each section of the SAT has a maximum score of 800

When will results be available?

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

How can Open Door Education help?

Preparation for the PSAT is not essential. However, for students seeking to make the most of their PSAT, Open Door Education teaches the skills and strategies that help students to succeed on test day by providing one-on-one personalized tutoring in all sections of the PSAT. Students who work with a tutor at Open Door Education feel confident and prepared on test day, and are better equipped to answer the most challenging questions in each section of the test.

What else should I do?

The first half of junior year is an ideal time for students to determine which test, the SAT or the ACT, is a better fit for them. The best way to make this decision is to take a diagnostic test of each and then meet with a test expert at Open Door Education for a complimentary consultation to establish a game plan. Students preparing for college admissions testing can sign up for a free diagnostic SAT and ACT by visiting opendoor.education/calendar today!

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