The PSAT/NMSQT is typically taken in your sophomore or junior year. If you take it in your sophomore year, then you can take it again in your junior year. PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT – so it is the test you take before, and in preparation for, your SAT. The SAT and PSAT are very similar in structure and scoring, so the PSAT can give you a really good idea of what the SAT test will be like and how well you may do. This gives you the opportunity to use the scores from your PSAT to help you structure your study and preparation for the SAT. NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying test. So, the test isn't all about SAT Prep. The test itself can qualify you for several scholarship opportunities. For this reason, it's worth some time and effort to practice for the test. Peterson's offers an online PSAT Prep course.
The PSAT/NMSQT is broken into three parts. There is a Reading Test, a Writing and Language Test and a Math test. We'll take a moment and break down these different sections, so you'll know what to expect.
The Reading Test is really about practical application. You'll be demonstrating your ability to retain and analyze what you read. You'll also be tested on your ability to understand unfamiliar vocabulary by examining the context in which that vocabulary is used. Like most of the questions on the rest of the test, it's not testing book knowledge – it's testing your ability to learn and think critically. The reading test is made up of 47 questions and you'll have 60 minutes to answer them.
In the writing section, you will again find yourself reading a passage. This time the questions will be related to the actual writing, more than the content of the writing. Are there errors in the writing? Is there a better way to get the message across? Some passages will have graphs, charts or tables with information that you'll need to reference. The test consists of 44 questions, and you'll have 35 minutes to answer all of them.
The math section will consist of real world problems. It focuses on scenarios that you may encounter in college or in your career after college. It will be up to you to use your math skills and knowledge to solve the problems presented. The Math test has 47 questions and you have 70 minutes to complete it. It is also split into two sections, a 45-minute section where you can use a calculator, and a 25-minute section where you cannot.
The test is mostly multiple choice. A few math questions are called "grid-ins" where you will fill in the bubbles that correspond with the numerical result you have obtained. You will be scored on each individual section, so it will be easy for you to see just how well you did in each subject. This information can be a useful study guide for when you take your SAT, or if you are re-taking your PSAT at a later date.