While most students are familiar with the SAT, the details of the PSAT often get lost in the assumption that the PSAT is simply a practice SAT test. Indeed, the PSAT is excellent preparation for the SAT, but it is also so much more! Let’s break down what exactly the PSAT is, why it matters, whether or not you should take it, and when (during this unprecedented upcoming school year) you can take it.
What is the PSAT?
Let’s start with the basics: The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) — often shortened to PSAT — is a standardized test targeting 10th and 11th graders in the US. The PSAT is, of course, closely tied to the SAT. One of the primary purposes of the PSAT is to prepare students for the SAT by providing a testing experience very similar to that of the SAT in terms of content, structure, and scoring. There are three sections on the PSAT, which mirror the SAT: Reading, Writing, and Math (with Calculator and No Calculator subsections). However, there are a few key differences:
– The SAT has an optional Essay section, whereas the PSAT does not.
– The PSAT has fewer questions than the SAT.
– The PSAT is known to be slightly easier than the SAT.
As for the “NMSQT” part of the PSAT/NMSQT, this exam doubles as a qualifying test for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship Program.
That’s not all, there are other iterations of the PSAT as well. The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 serve to prepare students for the PSAT/NMSQT and, eventually, the SAT. As the names suggest, the PSAT 10 is geared towards 10th graders and the PSAT 8/9 is offered to 8th and 9th graders. Neither of these tests can qualify students for National Merit, but they do provide excellent opportunities to familiarize yourself with the test before taking the PSAT/NMSQT in 11th grade.
Why does it matter?
Ultimately, the importance of your PSAT score depends on how you plan to use it: Are you trying to qualify for National Merit? Are you aiming for a high SAT score down the road?
Each year, the top 1% of 11th-grade PSAT takers become Semifinalists for National Merit scholarships. This group is then narrowed down to approximately 15,000 Finalists. From this pool of Finalists, about 7,500 students nationwide are awarded scholarships of $2,500 a year, which can be renewed each year of college.
It’s true that colleges will never see your official PSAT scores, but receiving a National Merit Scholarship – or having stellar SAT scores, for that matter – will certainly make you stand out on your college applications. Taking the PSAT is an important step in the process of building a strong application that reflects your academic strengths.
Should you take it?
If you’re not convinced already: in short, yes you should take the PSAT. There are several pathways for taking the PSAT. For students looking for as much official practice as possible, you can take the PSAT as early as 8th grade. However, a more common option is to take the PSAT 10 once in 10th grade to prepare for taking the PSAT/NMSQT in 11th grade.
If you’re planning to take the ACT instead of the SAT, you may be wondering if the PSAT could be useful to you. Absolutely! The PSAT is still a great way to get comfortable with the format of these standardized exams. Plus, regardless of whether you’re planning to take the SAT or ACT, your performance on the PSAT can be used to determine which academic areas you should focus on in your test prep. Additionally, a low score on the PSAT will not negatively impact you in any way. Even if the content on the PSAT doesn’t map perfectly onto the ACT, there is a lot of overlap.
When can you take it?
You must register for the PSAT at your own school (or a nearby school) and take it on the test date selected by your school. Some schools have all students take the PSAT/NMSQT, so make sure you know whether you need to register for the exam or if your school’s got that covered. As of now, the PSAT/NMSQT 2020 Testing Schedule looks like this:
– Primary date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020
– Saturday date: Saturday, October 17, 2020
– Alternate test date: Thursday, October 29, 2020
That being said, College Board acknowledges that many schools will be utilizing virtual instruction options and plans will continue to evolve this fall. For schools that are unable to administer the PSAT/NMSQT in October as planned, College Board states they will also offer the PSAT/NMSQT this winter, which will be used for programs administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. If this option piques your interest, stay tuned — College Board has promised to send out an email update on the winter PSAT by the end of the month.
Whether it’s the PSAT, SAT, ACT, or any other standardized test, we are here to help you strategize, prepare, and perform your very best on Test Day. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!