The PSAT is a national standardized test administered to 10th and 11th graders. Created by the College Board in partnership with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), this test is designed to predict what you would score on the SAT without any test preparation. The PSAT is modeled after the SAT; however, there are a few differences between the two.

SAT test scores are often submitted with college applications as a requirement for college admissions (with the exception of test optional schools), whereas PSAT scores are not viewed or evaluated by college admissions reps. As a result, there is much more pressure when taking the SAT as opposed to the PSAT. Another key difference is the opportunity to earn a National Merit scholarship after taking the PSAT. To be eligible for this scholarship, you must be a junior in high school and rank within the top 1% of PSAT scores (exact score cutoffs vary from year to year and state to state).

Content, Section Timing, and Questions

Section

PSAT SAT
Math
No Calculator
25 minutes for 17 questions 25 minutes for 20 questions
Math
Calculator
45 minutes for 31 questions 55 minutes for 38 questions
Reading 60 minutes for 48 questions 65 minutes for 52 questions
Writing 35 minutes for 44 questions 35 minutes for 44 question

Both the SAT and PSAT incorporate two math sections, one permitting the use of a calculator and the other not permitting it, as well as reading and writing sections. Subject content is similar across sections; however, the more challenging passport to advanced math topics are tested more on the SAT than on the PSAT. The three-hour SAT test without the essay is 15 minutes longer than the two hour and forty five minute PSAT test. The amount of time and number of questions per section differ slightly as indicated in the table below.

Scoring

Section PSAT SAT
Reading & Writing 160-760 200-800
Math 160-760 200-800
Overall 320-1520 400-1600

Overall test and section score ranges vary by test as shown in the chart above. Sub scores are scaled from 1-15 for both the PSAT and SAT. The subscores are strong indicators of content strength and weakness, which can be useful knowledge when preparing for the SAT.

If you’re concerned about taking the SAT because you scored low on the PSAT, try a practice ACT test. Since the content and formatting of these two tests differ, you might find the ACT showcases your strengths better than the SAT. Colleges accept either score, and your ACT score may predict your academic success in college much better than your SAT score.

After completing the PSAT, you can research college admissions criteria, specifically SAT and ACT score requirements, prioritize your top schools, set a goal score for the SAT or ACT, decide when to take the test, then create a study plan. Overwhelmed? Call us for additional support or assistance while creating your college admissions and SAT/ACT study plan.