As junior year rolls around, students 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. But what is the PSAT and why does it matter for juniors at every level?

What is the PSAT? 

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

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

PSAT 8/9 & PSAT 10

The PSAT 8/9 is for 8th and 9th graders and lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes. It covers Reading (55 min), Writing & Language (30 min), and Math (60 min). The PSAT 10 is for sophomores and is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 are given on dates selected by schools within large windows. This year’s PSAT 8/9 can be administered September-April, and PSAT10 in February-April..

PSAT/NMSQT

Each year’s PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test for a student’s entry to the National Merit Scholarship competitions, and starts a two-year process, beginning junior year when students take the test. Usually in mid-October, the PSAT/NMSQT this year will be held on October 14 and 17, 2020, with an alternate test day of October 29, and a newly added date of January 26, 2021.

How do you register for the test?

Registration is not directly available to students through the College Board website. Registration is done 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 PSAT 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.

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 indicate high potential. Make sure you practice over the summer and fall. Take the OnToCollege SAT/PSAT Prep course or do lots of practice questions. Free practice tests are also available from the College Board.

Time your practice test sections to help make sure you are pacing yourself correctly. Additionally, take a full practice and simulate testing conditions as closely as possible—quiet area, timed breaks, etc. To help prepare, attend OnToCollege free live! online help sessions and bring your questions for our master tutor to answer.

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The PSAT is not only a great chance to prepare for the SAT, but can also be an opportunity to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship and increase your potential for scholarships and other merit-based aid. Working hard to increase your PSAT score can help you become a college graduate with minimal debt! Grab a practice test and start working hard today!