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From its inception, the PSAT has been connected with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which was founded in 1955.[1] In 1958, Educational Testing Service launched the Scholarship Qualifying Test to aid in the selection of National Merit Scholars. The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT; usually referred to as the PSAT) was developed in 1959 by the College Board and quickly replaced the earlier Scholarship Qualifying Test.[2]

Prior to 1997, the PSAT lacked a writing skills section, and boys tended to receive National Merit Scholarships in disproportionately large numbers compared to girls. In 1996, an organization called FairTest submitted a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education alleging gender discrimination in the design of the examination. In response, the College Board added a writing skills section to the test in 1997. This revision narrowed the score gap between boys and girls by 40% and greatly increased the number of girls receiving National Merit Scholarships.[3]

Function of the Test

PSAT Study Guide

The PSAT measures three skill domains: Critical Reading, Mathematics Problem-Solving, and Writing Skills.[4] Each year, more than 3.5 million students take the PSAT, including 1.5 million high school juniors. Most students who take the examination indicate that they plan to attend college.[4]

PSAT scores are used in determining recipients of National Merit Scholarships. Between 3% and 4% of test takers achieve scores high enough to be considered for recognition by the NMSC. As its name suggests, the PSAT also serves to give younger high school students a preview of what the high-stakes SAT college admissions test is like, though the two examinations differ somewhat in scope and format.

The College Board also offers a "Skills Insight" tool which gives students personalized score, skill, and college planning information which links students' PSAT scores with their estimated college readiness skills.[5]

Test Administration

PSAT Flashcards

The PSAT is offered for a very limited period each autumn. Each individual high school chooses only one test date out of two possible dates. (For example, in 2014, the possible test dates are Wednesday, October 15 and Saturday, October 18.)[6] Because individual schools administer the PSAT, students are advised to contact a guidance counselor or principal for information regarding registering for the test, paying the test fees, and determining the correct place and time of the examination.[6]

The typical cost of the PSAT prescribed by the College Board is $14, but individual school are allowed to charge additional fees to cover administrative costs. Students from low-income families may be eligible for a fee waiver from the College Board and are encouraged to contact a school guidance counselor regarding this fee waiver program.[7]

The PSAT has five sections: two 25-minute critical reading sections, two 25-minute math sections, and one 30-minute writing skills section. All sections—including the writing skills section—are multiple choice. In total, the test requires two hours and ten minutes.[8]

Students with disabilities who require special accommodations may apply to College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) division to make any necessary testing arrangements. The College Board recommends submitting accommodation requests well in advance of the testing date.[9]

Test Format

Sections of the PSAT Test
PSAT Test Subject Areas # of Questions Time Limit
Math (2 Sections) 38 25 (each)
Critical Reading (2 Sections) 48 25 (each)
Writing Skills 39 30
Total 125 130

Test Environment

The PSAT is offered at many school, and takes place during mid October. The test is in a booklet form with an electronic answer sheet. Calculators are allowed, and encourage, for the math sections. Approved calculators include four-function, scientific, and graphing calculators.[10]

Test Structure

The PSAT is made out of five separately timed sections. There are two math sections, two critical reading sections, and one writing skills section. The math sections each last 25 minutes, and combined, contain 38 questions. The critical reading sections each last 25 minutes, and contain 48 questions. The writing skills section lasts 30 minutes, and contains 39 questions. The entire exam takes two hours and ten minutes to complete.[11]

Sample Questions

More free PSAT practice test questions.


Guessing is penalized on the PSAT.[4] First, a raw score for each section (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing Skills) is calculated by giving the student one point for each correct answer. Then, a quarter of a point is deducted for every incorrect answer. Points are not deducted for omitted answers.

After the raw score has been calculated, it is statistically scaled to account for the slightly varying difficulty levels of different versions of the PSAT. The scaled scores for each section of the PSAT range from 20 to 80. For juniors, the average score on the Critical Reading section is 47.7; the average score on the Math section is 48.6; and the average score on the Writing Skills section is 46.5.[4] Each student is also given a separate composite score which is calculated independently of the individual section score.[4] Score reports also include a "plus-or-minus" range which estimates how much better or worse any given student might perform if he or she were immediately retested.[4]

The College Board reports that SAT scores may be predicted by adding a zero to the end of a PSAT section score. For example, a score of 50 on the Mathematics section of the PSAT roughly corresponds to a score of 500 on the Mathematics section of the SAT.[12]

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses the sum of each student's three PSAT section scores to calculate a Selection Index ranging from 60 to 240. The selection index is used to determine which students will receive recognition in the National Merit Scholar program. Each year, approximately 1.5 million students have their PSAT scores considered by the NMSC program, and of those, about 55,000 (~4%) earn scores high enough to qualify for recognition. The top 4% of students achieve combined scores ranging from 200 to 240 on the PSAT.[4]

Answers to Sample Questions

Crital Reading 1:C; 2:A; Mathematics 1:D; 2:B; Writing Skills 1:C; 2:D;

Related Tests


  1. ^ About National Merit Scholarship Corporation April 25 2014
  2. ^ The Effects of a High School Coaching Program on SAT-Mathematics Test Scores April 25 2014
  3. ^ Gender Gap Narrows on Revised PSAT April 25 2014
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Understanding 2013 PSAT/NMSQT Scores April 25 2014
  5. ^ What is PSAT/NMSQT Skills Insight? 25 April 2014
  6. ^ a b Registration & Dates April 25 2014
  7. ^ Test Dates and Fees April 25 2014
  8. ^ What's on the Test April 25 2014
  9. ^ Services for Students with Disabilities® (SSD) April 25 2014
  10. ^ PSAT Calculators 26 June 2014
  11. ^ PSAT Test Breakdown 26 June 2014
  12. ^ About Scores April 25 2014