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/NMSQT. What is it, and why does it matter for juniors?

What is the new Digital PSAT?

The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and is now digital. 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 test is available in three levels:

PSAT 8/9

The PSAT 8/9 is for 8th and 9th graders and lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes. It covers Reading and Writing (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.

PSAT 10

The PSAT 10 is for sophomores and is slightly longer at 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Reading section (60 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.

PSAT/NMSQT

The new digital PSAT/NMSQT takes 2 hours and 14 minutes. The test has two sections: Reading and Writing (64 minutes, 54 questions), and Math (70 minutes, 44 questions). The Reading and Writing section is divided into two modules with questions covering four categories: Craft and Structure, Information and Ideas, Standard English Conventions, and Expression of Ideas. Math questions include four areas of content: Algebra, Advanced Math, Problem-Solving and Data Analysis, and Geometry and Trigonometry. Some questions require a calculator, while other questions are better solved without a calculator.

The 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. For 2023, students can take the PSAT/NMSQT on a date (determined by the school) between October 2 and 31, with an additional Saturday test day option of October 14.

How do you register?

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 score each year based on the test scores, so the qualifying score varies each year for each state. Scores are typically released online 4-6 weeks after the test date. Students who test in October 2023 can access scores on November 6 or November 16 depending on their test date.

The SAT offers grade-level benchmarks for each section to assess whether students are on track to be college ready. Score ranges and mean composite scores are shown for each test level for 2022:

Range ERW Math Mean
PSAT 8/9 (8th) 240-1440 406 401   807
PSAT 8/9 (9th) 240-1440 434 423  857 
PSAT 10 320-1520 460 448 908
PSAT/NMSQT 320-1520 486 469 952

How do you prepare? 

Academically strong sophomores should take the PSAT (offered only directly through high schools) or SAT. 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.

The digital PSAT uses the Bluebook™ app which you’ll want to download and practice on well before test day so that you’re familiar with its functionality. 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.

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 score definitely helps you become a college graduate with minimal debt.