Most people are familiar with the SAT, as many universities require students to take the exam prior to enrollment. However, you may not be as familiar with the PSAT, or “preliminary” SAT. The PSAT is the most effective way for students to practice for the SAT before taking the official test.
While the PSAT and SAT are scored differently, they both have similar structures and questions. This way, students can get an accurate picture of how they will perform on the real exam. To get a better idea of how the PSAT works, let’s breakdown everything you need to know about this important test. We'll also provide free PSAT practice tests to help you do your best on this important exam.
How to Study for the PSAT
When it comes to studying, everyone has different needs and habits. That said, there are plenty of great PSAT resources to get you started out on the right foot. If you’re searching for ways to prepare for the PSAT, check out some of the following resources:
Official PSAT Resources
One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to get information directly from the test administrators. For the PSAT, this means consulting the College Board, a non-profit organization that has been developing and administering standardized tests for over a century. Here are a few helpful links provided by the College Board:
Free PSAT Practice Test Resources
In addition to official resources, there are a number of valuable practice tests available to students for free. These tests can vary in certain respects, but they all provide an accurate representation of the PSAT, so it’s a good idea to check out more than one.
- College Board PSAT Practice Test (PDF)
- Kaplan PSAT Practice Test
- The Princeton Review PSAT Practice Test
- Varsity Tutors PSAT Practice Test
Free PSAT Study Guides
Taking practice tests will help you know what to expect, but many people require additional guidance to build positive study habits. Thankfully, there are several comprehensive study guides available online. These links will complement and guide your PSAT study plan, with absolutely no cost to you:
Free PSAT Flashcards
In order to get a high score on the PSAT (and eventually the SAT), you will need to retain a lot of information. Flashcards are a great way to learn new information and recall important facts during the test. Let’s take a look at a few of the best free PSAT flaschard resources available:
Exam Outline - What’s On the PSAT?
Needless to say, there are plenty of ways to prepare for the PSAT, but it is extremely important that you know what to expect on the day of the test. In addition to knowing the types of questions on the exam, you will also want to know how the PSAT is administered, your allotted time, and all of the DO’s and DON’Ts for the test day.
Just like the SAT, the PSAT is broken down into 3 sections: the Reading Test, the Writing and Language Test, and the Math Test. First, let’s take a look at the Reading Test:
PSAT Reading Test
The Reading Test is comprised of passages taken from literature, historical documents, and other similar sources. Each passage is followed by multiple-choice questions that test your ability to extract meaning, understand complex wording, find the main idea, and interpret the author’s intention. In some cases, you will need to compare and contrast two passages written on the same topic.
Allotted Time: 60 minutes
Number of Questions: 48
Type of Questions: Multiple-choice
PSAT Writing and Language Test
The Writing and Language Test (sometimes just called the “Writing Test”) is made up of multiple-choice questions that test your understanding of grammar, writing style, word choice, and context. It may seem strange to test your writing skills with multiple-choice questions, but this section uses many pre-written sentences to see how well you can spot errors, improve wording, and edit for optimal coherence. You will not be given as much time to complete the Writing and Language Test, as it has fewer questions and does not require you to spend a lot of time reading or analyzing long passages.
Allotted Time: 35 minutes
Number of Questions: 44
Type of Questions: Multiple-choice
PSAT Math Test
The Math Test is split into two distinct sections: No-Calculator and Calculator-Allowed. Needless to say, the “No-Calculator” section will require you to solve math problems using pen and paper only, while the “Calculator-Allowed” section involves more complex math questions that necessitate a calculator. In both sections, you can expect to see problems involving Algebra I and II, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Additionally, the Math Test is the only part of the PSAT that includes questions that are not multiple-choice.
Allotted Time: 70 minutes (25 for No-Calculator, and 45 for Calculator-Allowed)
Number of Questions: 48 (17 for No-Calculator, and 31 for Calculator-Allowed)
Type of Questions: Multiple-choice and grid-in questions
*Note: While the SAT does include an optional essay section, the PSAT does not.
PSAT Administration - What You Need to Know to Register
PSAT Test Dates
The PSAT is administered once a year in October. While the primary test day always takes place during the school week, there is also an opportunity to take the test on the following Saturday. If you are unable to take the test on either of these days, there is also one alternative test date that is predetermined by the test administrators. You can find the exact dates for the next testing period right here.
At many high schools, PSAT registration is mandatory for every student, and the registration fees are covered by the school. However, this is not always the case. If your school does not offer registration for the PSAT, you may need to register and pay for the test through a nearby school. In any case, the fee for registration is generally around $16. You can register online at this link. The deadline for test registration is usually about one month prior to the test dates, though the exact deadline varies each year.
What Happens During the PSAT?
When you arrive on the test day, you will need to make sure you have everything you need. Since you will be seated for an extended period of time, you should remember to wear comfortable clothing. It is always advisable to bring a watch to help keep track of time and an extra jacket in case you get cold. However, you should not wear any clothing or jewelry that is noisy or distracting. In addition to proper attire, there are a few items that you must have ready for the test:
- Photo ID (generally a school ID)
- No. 2 pencils with erasers
- Calculator with extra batteries (you can find a list of accepted PSAT calculators here)
Since many schools require their students to take the PSAT, the test is often administered in a large cafeteria or auditorium. Every student will be given pieces of blank paper to make notes, and there will be various administrators walking among the test-takers. You are not allowed to talk during the exam, and you must quietly notify an administrator and secure permission if you have any reason to leave your seat.
Who is Eligible to Take the PSAT?
While many students take the PSAT during their junior year of high school, this is by no means a requirement. Freshman and sophomore students are also eligible to take the PSAT. There are no specific requirements for PSAT eligibility, except that you must register for the PSAT before the registration deadline.
PSAT Scores - How Are They Calculated?
The PSAT is scored a little differently than the SAT. On the SAT, the Reading and Writing Tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 800, and the Math Test is scored on its own using the same scale. So, the SAT scores can range anywhere between 400-1600, with the optional essay graded separately.
Alternatively, the PSAT is scored out of a possible 1520, with Reading/Writing and Math both scored out of 760. Each test is scored in 10-point increments. Since the PSAT and SAT scoring systems are quite similar, your overall PSAT score will give you a relatively accurate idea of what to expect on the SAT (and may predict your ACT scores).
It generally takes about 6 weeks from the test date to receive your PSAT scores, and the average national score is 920. However, if you want to score within the top 10% of test-takers, you will need to score somewhere between 1200-1520. Getting a perfect score on the PSAT is rare; less than 1% of test-takers answer every question correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re still unsure about what to expect from the test, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about the PSAT:
Can universities see my PSAT score?
No, colleges and universities cannot see how you scored on the PSAT. However, if you are enrolled in the Student Search Service, educational institutions can see your test results within a certain range.
Is the PSAT the same as the SAT?
While the PSAT and SAT are very similar, they do have a few important differences. As stated above, the two tests are scored differently. With the exception of the optional essay section, both exams cover the same test subjects and include the same types of questions. However, the PSAT has fewer questions and allows less time per section.
Students have opportunities to take the SAT throughout the year, while the PSAT is only available once every October. Finally, the cost of taking each test is different. The PSAT usually costs around $16, while the SAT costs $46 (or $60 with the essay section).
Do I have to take the PSAT?
While some high schools make PSAT registration mandatory, it is not always a requirement to take the test. That said, if you would like to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program, you are required to take the PSAT.
Last Updated: 10/08/19