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What to Know About the PSAT

EVERY OCTOBER, high school students across the country take the PSAT/NMSQT (yes, that last part is weird…no vowels!).

PSAT/NMSQT stands for Pre-SAT /National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test.

Lots of families are confused about the PSAT/NMQST and have questions, like…

  • Does my student need to take the PSAT?
  • Is the PSAT important?
  • How are PSAT scores used?
  • Do I need to prep for the PSAT?

I’ve got you covered!

Below are the two main things you need to know about the PSAT:

What the PSAT/NMQST Is

The PSAT/NMSQT (also referred to simply as the PSAT or Pre-SAT) is a slightly easier, slightly shorter version of its big brother, the SAT.

For most students the “Pre-SAT” is a free, no-strings-attached SAT practice run; the scores are NOT provided to colleges.

However, if you feel you (or your student) has the potential to score high enough to become a PSAT National Merit Scholar, it becomes more than a “practice run”.

That’s because  at some schools (mostly large, public universities) the National Merit Scholar designation can earn teens scholarships, at some schools,  full tuition (see more below).

The PSAT is a lot like the SAT.

Both have a reading and writing section and two math sections.

The total score is the sum of the  Reading/Writing score and the Math score.

Potential score ranges are an important difference between the PSAT and SAT:

  • a perfect score on the PSAT is a 1520
  •  a perfect score on the SAT is a 1600.

The 80 point gap is because on the PSAT, test writers have left off the most difficult questions.

Grade Level and Your Student’s Standardized Testing Ability Impact How Much the PSAT Matters

For the vast majority of students, the PSAT is a great opportunity to practice for the real SATs that will be taken in junior and senior year…  without the high stakes stress.

If you are taking the PSAT/NMSQT as a freshman or sophomore, don’t stress about this examination!

If you are a high-school junior, you may want to give the PSAT more consideration.

That’s because for juniors, the PSAT represents a chance to qualify as one of  the 16,000 juniors who are selected as National Merit finalists each year.

The ‘NMSQT’ part of the PSAT name stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test. 

If your PSAT score is greater than the cut-off for your state in the year you test, then you may qualify to be a National Merit Commended Student or a National Merit Semi-finalist.

Because these awards only apply to the top 50,000 students out of the 1.6+ million students who take the PSAT nationally,  students need to achieve extremely high scores in order to qualify.

Being designated a National Merit Scholar could mean increased admission opportunities and scholarship dollars. 

These scholarships, while helpful, are usually a minimal amount (in the range of $2,000), except for full tuition scholarships at some large public universities.

If your sophomore PSAT or recent SAT practice test results are above a 1380 you may want to consider preparing heavily for the PSAT as your scores are strong and with some prep, you may be able to qualify for the NMSQT.

Hope that is helpful!

~ Faith