Frequently Asked Questions about the PSAT

What are the differences between the PSAT and the SAT?
How does my PSAT score relate to my SAT score?
What PSAT score do I need to qualify for National Merit Honors?
When is the PSAT given? How do I register for it?


What are the differences between the PSAT and the SAT?
First, the PSAT scores are presented on a different scale. Instead of each test being reported on a 200-800 scale, PSAT scores are on a 20-80 scale. The SAT is much longer than the PSAT. Because of the inclusion of the essay and an experimental/equating section and the need for greater reliability, the SAT requires 3 hours and 45 minutes while the PSAT is completed in 2 hours and 10 minutes (not including breaks). The content of the PSAT mimics that of the SAT except that there is no essay and Algebra II concepts are de-emphasized on the PSAT because, in October, many students will have only just begun this math class.



How does my PSAT score relate to my SAT score?
The PSAT scale is 20-80 in each subject instead of 200-800. Other than the lack of a zero, the scores are essentially comparable with the notable caveat that the SAT is a slightly different and longer test and many students pick up new skills between taking the PSAT and the SAT. If you take the PSAT as a sophomore, you should be aware that you will often score better when you take the PSAT as a junior (the PSAT is designed with juniors as the intended test-takers although many schools have sophomores take the test for practice). A disappointing PSAT score should not be a reason to give up on achieving an acceptable SAT score. Many students improve dramatically between the PSAT and SAT and, obviously, test preparation can aid that learning process.



What PSAT score do I need to qualify for National Merit Honors?
First, only juniors are considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Qualification for National Merit is based on your Selection Index, which is simply the sum of your three scaled scores for Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. The range of Selection Index scores is thus 60-240. There are four primary levels of honors that you can receive as part of the National Merit program: Commended Student, Semi-Finalist, Finalist, and Scholar. The cut-off score for Commended Students is set nationally for the top 50,000 scorers. In the most recent year, the qualifying Selection Index was 200. Semi-Finalists are the top scorers in each state, so the cut-off varies from state-to-state. The most recent California cut-off for Semi-Finalists was 221. Approximately 95% of Semi-Finalists become Finalists by meeting minimum academic standards. About half of these students go on to receive scholarships as National Merit Scholars. Some scholarships are open only to the children of employees at a given company, some are sponsored by colleges, and others are open to all students. The PSAT Bulletin available in your college counseling office will have detailed information on the range of scholarship opportunities.



When is the PSAT given? How do I register for it?
Unlike the SAT which is given at specific test centers and for which you must register through the College Board, the PSAT is generally administered at your own school and who takes the test is determined by the school. Schools can offer the PSAT on one of two dates in mid-October, so check with your college counselor to find out when you will take the PSAT.




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James Skrumbis,
Head of School,
Sierra Canyon School,
previously Director
of Upper School,
Marlborough School