PSAT 101
Your Introduction to the PSAT/NMSQT
Should I Prep for the PSAT/NMSQT?
Why You Should Practice for this Practice Test
Useful Information on the PSAT
About National Merit Scholarships
Why the NMS program is a Big Deal

The Beginning of the College Planning Process

Registering for and taking the PSAT is milestone for many high school students. Like a rite of passage, it may mark the start of the college planning process. As the first official step in the race towards college acceptance, the PSAT will show you how you’ll fare against the competition – the thousands of fellow high school students from across the nation who will also be applying to your selected colleges.

What Does "PSAT" Stand For?

Technically, the PSAT should be written as “PSAT/NMSQT” and stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Like the SAT, it is a standardized test administered by the College Board; however, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) also has a stake in this event as they sponsor the scholarship portion of this exam.

PSAT - The SAT's Little Brother

The PSAT is essentially an easier, condensed version of the SAT.  The test consists of critical reading and math sections, and one 30 minute writing section, a total of about two hours and ten minutes, whereas the SAT is a whopping 3 hours and 45 minutes in duration.

PSAT – Preparation for the Main Event

There are 1.4 million PSAT test entrants each year. The primary purpose of the PSAT is to help prepare students for the main event – the SAT. Taking the PSAT will show you what you can expect on the SAT, and because your PSAT scores are not sent to colleges, this exam is a safe way to practice for the actual SAT.

Scholarship Potential

The PSAT has the added incentive of a fantastic scholarship opportunity. Should you do very well in the PSAT/NMSQT (95th – 99th percentile), you may qualify for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship, and this looks great on college applications. Of note, only juniors are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship.

Students who want to score well on the SAT need to prepare early. This also means preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT. Knowing what to expect, and experiencing the actual testing conditions more than once, will leave you with a solid understanding of what to expect on the more important SAT. Bottom line: being prepared for the PSAT/NMSQT is invaluable in helping you deal with tough, timed tests.

Avoiding Anxiety Attacks

Waiting until the week before the PSAT test to prepare serves little purpose. Walking into a tough test such as the PSAT or SAT can cause severe anxiety - even with plenty of preparation. Imagine how you would feel if you walked into the test without knowing what to expect. You would feel nervous, overwhelmed, and anxious.

Confidence Comes Easy to Those Who Train

If you feel you have a real shot at becoming a National Merit Scholar – or simply wish to get a head start on preparing for the SAT – you should strongly consider taking a PSAT preparation course.  When the time comes to take the SAT, if you have prepared for both the PSAT and the SAT, you know you’ll walk in feeling confident and ready to succeed.

P" in PSAT/NMSQT stands for preliminary. This test is meant to give you a preliminary idea of how you will score on the SAT. But PSAT/NMSQT scores do not predestine SAT scores. Many students find they can increase their SAT scores through dedicated test prep. Below are general facts about the PSAT/NMSQT


The test is given in October every year.

  • The whole test requires two hours and 10 minutes.
  • Math: The PSAT/NMSQT does not include higher-level mathematics such as Algebra II concepts
  • Essay:  The PSAT/NMSQT does not include an essay in its writing section

Colleges do not consider your PSAT/NMSQT scores for college admissions, however they are interested in seeing whether or not you were recognized as a National Merit Scholar

What’s on the Test

  • Two 25-minute critical reading sections 13 sentence completions, 35 critical reading questions.
  • Two 25-minute math sections: 28 multiple choice questions, 10 fill-in questions.
  • One 30-minute writing skills section. 14 Identifying sentence errors, 5 Improving paragraph questions, 20 Improving sentences

What to Bring

  • Admission Ticket
  • Student ID
  • About 5 Number 2 Pencils
  • Calculator


  • A student receives one point for each correct answer and loses 1/4 of a point for each incorrect answer.
  • When you get your score multiply it by 1O and you have a projected SAT score.


  • The fee for the PSAT/NMSQT is $13.
  • Schools sometimes charge an additional fee to cover administrative costs.
  •  The College Board makes fee waivers available to schools for students in eleventh grade from low-income families who can't afford the test fee


This test is administered by high schools, not through test centers. Online registration for the PSAT/NMSQT is not available.

Contact your high school counselor or principal about test registration, test fees, dates, time and location of the PSAT/NMSQT in your area. 

How many Times Can I Take the PSAT/NMSQT

  • You can take the PSAT/NMSQT only once a year. Many students take the PSAT/NMSQT their sophomore year and again as juniors.
  • Only your junior year scores will count towards the National Merit Scholarship Program.

The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an scholastic competition that began in 1955. Students are competing for recognition and scholarships and enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).

To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must take the PSAT/NMSQT as a high school junior (11th grade), be enrolled as a full time high school student, and be in good standing towards high school graduation. Entrants must also be U.S. citizens or legal U.S. residents with the intention of becoming US citizens.

Ultimately, doing well on the PSAT will enter you in the running for a National Merit Scholarship and/or get you recognized for academic excellence. Both of which look very good on college applications.

NMSC Recognized Students

The first round of high PSAT scorers are identified. About 50,000 of the 1.4 million students will qualify for National Merit® Scholarship Program recognition. Recognition is based on high scores on the PSAT. A few months after the PSAT, usually the following April, high-scoring students are asked to identify two colleges or universities whom they would like the NMSC to send recommendations to.

NMSC Commended Students

Of the 50,000 Recognized students, 2/3 will receive Letters of Commendation. These letters essentially recognize a student’s academic achievement, but do not qualify them for  Merit Scholarship® awards.  However, some of these students may go on to receive special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.

NMSC Semifinalists

The September after the PSAT about 1/3 of the 50,000 high scorers receive notice that they have qualified as Semifinalists. Semifinalists are the highest scoring entrants in each state. The Semifinalist will also receive a packet of scholarship application paperwork to complete. To qualify for Merit Scholarships, Semifinalists must meet certain academic standards.

NMSC Finalists

NMSC whittles the Semifinalist list down, and in February, about 15,000 Semifinalists are notified that they have advanced to Finalist standing.

Merit Scholarship Winners

Winners of Merit Scholarship awards are based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments, academic record, information about the school's curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, school official's written recommendation, information about the student's extra curricular activities, and the Finalist's own essay.

Types of Merit Scholarship Awards

About 8200 of the 1.4 million PSAT students will qualify to receive Merit Scholarship awards. The three types of awards are:

  • National Merit® $2500 Scholarships
    These are single payment scholarships.
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
    These scholarships may either be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or one-time awards.
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
    These awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study.


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