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PSAT FAQ

By September 1, 2019 September 30th, 2019 For Students, PSAT, SAT

In this post we’ll walk you through some of the most frequently asked questions about the PSAT. Check out our additional resources listed at the end of this post for more detailed information.

Click Each Question Below to Reveal an Expanded Answer:

Why should I take the PSAT?

The PSAT provides ideal practice! The testing environment will be timed and serious—it will feel very much like the official test, but with slightly less pressure since colleges will not receive your scores. You can also use your PSAT score as a baseline for preparation to see how much you improve.

If you end up taking the SAT as your official college admission test, the PSAT will give you a preview of question types and pacing. Many schools return test booklets to students after they’ve received their scores. But even if yours doesn’t, your online score report includes copies of all of the questions, so you can review the specific questions you missed. And if you post a high score in your junior year, you might just become eligible for National Merit recognition! (Check out our post on PSAT National Merit Frequently Asked Questions for more information.)

But even if you ultimately plan to take the ACT, the SAT (and thus, PSAT) and ACT have become so similar that taking the PSAT will still give you some good practice for the ACT.

When is the PSAT offered? Do I have to register for it?

There are slight variations on the PSAT; when it’s offered depends on which version is offered.

Most high schools offer the PSAT/NMSQT to juniors in October, and many schools offer the PSAT to sophomores at the same time. Some schools wait and offer PSAT 10—which is identical to the PSAT except for when it’s offered—to sophomores in spring. The PSAT 8/9, which is a slightly shorter and easier test, is offered to 8th and 9th graders at some schools at a convenient point during the academic year.

At most schools, no pre-registration is required. You will fill out a registration sheet as part of the test. Check with your college counseling office for the exact date. If you are homeschooled or at a school that does not offer the PSAT, you can learn more about registering at a nearby school.It’s a good idea to create a College Board account and make sure to use the same address and name spelling on your PSAT and account so that they can match you to your scores.

What is the difference between the PSAT and SAT?

The PSAT is designed to give you and your counselors a sense of your performance for guidance purposes. No college will ever see these scores.

The PSAT is a shorter, and slightly easier, version of the SAT. Unlike the SAT, the PSAT does not have an essay component. Otherwise, the structure and length of the sections is nearly identical. The easier content means that the top score on the PSAT is slightly lower than that of the SAT. Both tests occupy different spaces on the same score scale—each SAT section is scored on a range of 200–800 while each PSAT section is scored on a range of 160–760 (see below). Otherwise, the scores are considered comparable. For example, a student scoring 600 on the PSAT Math section would—if testing at the same time—be likely to score a 600 on the SAT Math section.

How long does it take?

The PSAT clocks in at a tight 2 hours and 45 minutes, but with breaks and time to fill out the registration form and questionnaire at the beginning of the test, your session could extend an hour or more.

If you receive testing accommodations, the length will depend on the specifics of your testing plan. Review the chart below for the various timing and breaks.

Do colleges see the PSAT score?

Nope! But your high school counselors can see a schoolwide report that does include your scores. Depending on how you fill out the PSAT registration information, colleges may send you promotional literature based on your approximate score range. This information is not used for admission purposes.

When do scores come back? How do I get my scores?

Scores come back in December. Your counselors will have access to scores first and may have a schedule for distributing results. If your name, address, and other identifying information you filled out when taking the PSAT match what you entered into your College Board account, you’ll find your detailed score report waiting for you about a week after schools are notified!

If not, you can follow the instructions in this handy PDF.

Why is the highest section score 760? Why is the top total score 1520?

This explanation is grounded on College Board’s commitment to increasing the visibility of students’ college readiness.

The PSAT is part of a broader College Board initiative. At one end, the SAT anchors a vertically aligned assessment system that includes the PAST 8/9 for 8th and 9th graders, PSAT 10 for 10th graders, and PSAT/NMSQT for 11th graders (and, optionally, for 10th graders).

These tests are built upon a single empirical backbone, so as students advance through high school, the scope and difficulty of the tests increase accordingly. The suite of assessments contains different tests for students at different stages of academic development, but the tests share one continuous scale (120–800).

Because lower-level tests focus on earlier concepts, they are limited to lower bands of the full scale. The SAT tests higher concepts, so its maximum potential score is higher.

The key is that this scale represents a student’s score “now,” indicating a likely SAT score if it had been taken instead of the PSAT on that day.

Can you compare PSAT scores to ACT?

You can! Because the PSAT and SAT are located on the same scale, and because College Board has provided concordance tables to compare SAT and ACT scores, you can use our tables and graph to compare scores to see if you should favor one test.

Whats a good score?

It depends on what you mean by good.

For some, a score that gives them the most information about their potential options is a good one. For others, a good score is only one that will qualify them for National Merit recognition.

One thing that can be helpful is to look at the User Percentiles that appear on your online score report. The percentile ranks represent the percentage of students at or below your score. These percentiles can help you see where you stand in relation to other students taking the exam who intend to apply to college.

Your score report will also include Nationally Representative Sample percentiles based on the hypothetical case of every student in the U.S. taking the PSAT. We recommend the User Percentiles as more representative because they consider all of the students who took the PSAT in the previous year.

It may also be helpful to look at the profiles of colleges where you think you may apply. We have listed 360 popular colleges along with the mid-range (25th–75th percentile) SAT and ACT scores of their freshman class. Keep in mind that most students will improve between sophomore and junior year and between the PSAT and SAT.

How is the National Merit Selection Index calculated?

The easiest way to calculate your National Merit Selection index is to double your Reading and Writing score, add your math score, and drop a 0.

For example:

Reading and Writing 710; Math 690

(710 x 2) + 690 = 2110

Drop the 0

211 = Selection Index

Should we study for the PSAT?

Some students find it helpful to prepare for the PSAT so it’s familiar the day of the test. Those who suffer from test anxiety often report that practicing the material and question style in advance can help reduce stress on the day of the exam.

We rarely recommend extensive prep just for the PSAT. More often, any preparation is viewed as a foundation for further prep for the full SAT later in the winter or in the spring.

If sophomore or practice PSAT scores suggest that you may be in contention for National Merit recognition, then more formal and extensive preparation can be a good investment.

Is there a difference between 10th- and 11th-grade tests?

Only juniors are eligible for National Merit recognition. When scores are returned, the college benchmarks listed on reports are grade-specific. But other than these two items, the tests and results are the same.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information, personalized guidance, and practice tests.

Ash Kramer

About Ash Kramer

With a career in test prep and higher education that began in the late 90s, Ash has held a variety of educational roles from tutor to administrator. She is currently a PhD candidate at USC and the Director of Curriculum at Compass, where she is lucky to lead a brilliant team creating the very best learning materials for students and their tutors.

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