High school juniors have a lot on their minds, from activities and academics to friends and the future. But most juniors need to add one more item to their list: the PSAT. What is the PSAT, and why does it matter for juniors at every level?

The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a standardized test administered by the College Board. It prepares you for the SAT and serves as your entrance exam for the prestigious National Merit Scholarships.

Several states mandate the PSAT as a college readiness benchmark. Because colleges don’t use the PSAT in admissions, taking the test can be less stressful for students, a valuable practice opportunity, and a way to identify subjects in which students need extra preparation. The PSAT is available in three levels:

The PSAT 8/9 is for 8th and 9th graders and lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes. It covers Reading (55 min, 42 questions), Writing & Language (30 min, 40 questions), and Math (60 min, 38 questions). Schools can offer this year’s test during several windows from September to April.

The PSAT 10 is for sophomores and is slightly longer at 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Reading section (55 min, 47 questions), Writing & Language (35 min, 44 questions), and Math sections (70 min, 48 questions) are the same as those in the actual PSAT/NMSQT test. This year’s PSAT 10 can be taken at schools during February, March, or April.

Each year’s PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test for junior students to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition. To win, students must take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of Junior year. The PSAT/NMSQT this year will be held on October 12 and 15, 2022, with an alternate test day of October 25.

How do you register for the test?

Registration is not directly available to students through the College Board but through high schools. Many school districts cover the costs of this test for all. Homeschool students should register with their neighborhood high school. Fee waivers are not available for the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10 but can be obtained for low-income juniors via their high school for the PSAT/NMSQT.

How is the test scored? 

Scoring methods for each test are similar, but score ranges, benchmarks, and mean scores vary. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation calculates a Selection Index each year based on the test scores, so the qualifying score varies each year for each state.

The SAT offers grade-level benchmarks for each section to assess whether students are on track to be college ready. Score ranges, benchmarks, and mean composite scores are shown for the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT:

PSAT scores

How do you prepare for the PSAT? 

Academically strong sophomores should take the PSAT (offered only directly through high schools) or SAT. SAT/PSAT scores of 1300 and higher indicate real potential for winning a prestigious National Merit Scholarship junior year. Sophomores who have such potential should practice often over the summer before junior year—and that fall. Take the OnToCollege SAT/PSAT Prep course, and do lots of practice questions. Free practice tests are also available from the College Board.

Time your practice test sections so you are pacing yourself correctly. Take a full practice, and simulate testing conditions—quiet area, timed breaks. To help prepare, attend OnToCollege free Live! Online Help sessions and bring your questions for our OTC master tutor to answer.

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The PSAT is a great chance to prepare for the SAT, and your opportunity to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship—and other scholarships and merit-based aid. Working hard to increase your PSAT score definitely helps you become a college graduate with minimal debt.