Test Prep

Should You Take the PSAT?

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Plenty of students think the PSAT isn’t worth their time — who wants to study for another test? But I urge you to consider it. Sure, the PSAT isn’t going to get you into college. (These scores are not taken into account in college admission offices.) However, students who take this test can reap great benefits along the way regardless.

Like much of the college admission process, confusion surrounding the PSAT can lead to a resistance toward it. I’ve put together this guide to the PSAT to help make your decision a little easier.


What’s the Difference Between This Test And the SAT?

The PSAT and the SAT are nearly identical. The PSAT is only fifteen minutes shorter than the SAT. And while the PSAT doesn’t have an essay portion, there’s still quite a bit of content overlap between the two tests. If you’re not familiar with the structure of the SAT, that leaves the following sections to appear on both:

- Reading

- Writing and Language

- Math

The Math test here, just like on the SAT, will be split into two sections: One allowing the use of a calculator and one not.

So apart from the small time difference and a slightly different scale used for scoring (the PSAT uses a scale of 320–1520 as opposed to the scale of 400-1600 used on the SAT), there’s not much else that sets them apart.

Then What’s the Point of the PSAT?

According to the College Board, the PSAT aims to measure two things: What you learn in high school and what you need in order to succeed in college. But there’s more to it than that! While having a good idea of where you currently stand in your high school coursework is great, what’s even better is having the opportunity to gauge that understanding before you sit down for the full SAT later on.

Examining the scores you get on this test also helps to inform your SAT prep. The questions you get wrong can help to identify sections for which you need additional review. The questions you get right and feel confident about can help you figure out which subjects you might not need to prep for as much.

The way in which the PSAT scores your test makes it even easier for you to prepare, because the report breaks your overall results into subscores. What I mean by that is this: You’ll receive a section score for Math, but you’ll also receive individual scores for sections within Math, like “Heart of Algebra” and “Passport to Advanced Mathematics.” Take (hypothetical high school junior) Justin for example:

Justin received a 650 (that’s actually pretty good!) on the Math section of his PSAT, but he really wanted above a 700 (even better!). Justin’s report says that, while he performed really well in Heart of Algebra, his score in Passport to Advanced Mathematics wasn’t quite as hot.

How does that help Justin in his SAT prep? Well, now Justin knows that he already has a solid handle on how to solve algebra problems without exponents, so he can instead switch gears to focus more on advanced mathematics!

Finally, the PSAT is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or NMSQT (try saying that three times fast!). Your National Merit Scholarship Qualifying index (NMSQI) is a different score than your PSAT score. If you’re in the top one percent of your state when you take the PSAT as a junior, you may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Therefore, if you’re a strong standardized test-taker (or are willing to put in the work to become one!), you should strongly consider preparing for the PSAT in your junior year. Doing so can both help you earn a scholarship AND prepare you for the SAT – accomplishing two goals at once!

Practice Makes Perfect

Just in case you’ve gotten this far and still aren’t convinced about the PSAT, I’ve got one more good argument for you! Everyone knows that scoring high on the SAT is more than just knowing the content. Things like conquering test anxiety, finding your best pace and forming test-taking strategies are all important, too! Although you can always take SAT practice tests on your own, the conditions of the PSAT itself are closest to those you’ll face during the SAT.

So with a little more clarity on what the PSAT has to offer, I’ll leave it to you to make the decision on whether to add it to your college prep checklist! Remember that practice is the key to perfection, and a little extra help can go a long way.