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About the PSAT/NMSQT

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014

An overview of the PSAT

PSAT/NMSQT stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. In addition to screening candidates for the National Merit Scholarship Program (for juniors), it's great practice for the SAT, which contains the same types of questions. Most students take the test during October of their junior year in high school, though some students elect to take a practice run during sophomore year. (Which makes it a practice, practice PSAT/NMSQT!)

Test topics include Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. All the while you have been in school, you have been working on these skills and doing a form of PSAT prep. Here is a great chance to show what you have learned.

The two Critical Reading sections include reading comprehension questions about full-length and paragraph-length passages. They also include sentence completions.

The Writing section includes multiple-choice questions on grammar, usage, word choice, and organization. Unlike on the SAT, there's no essay, but schools are provided with a practice essay to help you prepare.

The Math test also has two sections. This test has both multiple-choice questions and grid-in questions. The grid-in questions require you to generate your own response rather than choosing from among several options. PSAT topics in Math include: numbers and operations; algebra and functions; geometry and measurement; and statistics, probability, and data analysis. Math topics that most first-semester juniors have not yet covered are excluded from the test.

If you're interested in getting a better idea of what all this translates to in practice, be sure to register for a account and check out Peterson's free PSAT practice test.

PSAT test dates are limited

There are two PSAT test dates each year in October. Each high school administers the test on only one of the two dates that are established each year. You have to take the test on the date that is available to you. The test dates for 2011 were Wednesday, October 12, and Saturday, October 15, and the times for 2012 are likely to be similar.

You can take the PSAT at a location near you

You must take the PSAT/NMSQT at a high school, either the school you attend or one in your community. Talk to your school counselor to sign up.

Test structure of the PSAT


Critical Reading
Question Type Number of Questions
Sentence completions 13
Passage-based reading 35
Time Allotted: Two 25-minute sections. Total: 50 minutes
Question Type Number of Questions
Identifying sentence errors 14
Improving sentences 20
Improving paragraphs 5
Time Allotted: One 30-minute section. Total: 30 minutes
Question Type Number of Questions
Multiple-choice 28
Grid-ins 10
Time Allotted: Two 25-minute sections. Total: 50 minutes


A brief introduction to your PSAT score

PSAT scores are sent out in December. Your PSAT score report will contain three types of scores. One set of numbers, each ranging from 20 to 80, will be your overall scores on the Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing sections. (Corresponding sections on the SAT are scored on a scale of 200 to 800.) Another number on your report will be your Selection Index, the score that determines your eligibility for the programs offered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Ranging from 60 to 240, this number will be the total (CR + M + W) of your scores in the three subject areas of the PSAT test. The final portion of your PSAT score report will be your national percentile ranking. That number helps you view yourself relative to all the other students in your grade who took the test.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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