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The PSAT/NMSQT (or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a preliminary version of the SAT, and while it is not counted on college applications for admission, it is much more than a practice test. Success on the PSAT can be a mark of distinction, elevating the competitive candidacy of the student as well as providing the possibility for scholarship funding. This test is also required for a student to be considered for the elite rankings of National Merit Scholarship Finalist, National Achievement Scholarship Finalist, or Commended Scholar.
An effective PSAT preparation course can help secure additional merit-based scholarship funding and lays the foundation for subsequent success on the SAT and ACT by uncovering a student’s strengths and areas of improvement early. Reach out to us to see how we can prepare you to reach your score potential.
Test Format & Structure
As with the SAT Reasoning Test, the PSAT is made up of two components, with the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing component section being broken into a Reading section and a Writing & Language section. Math is broken up into calculator and no-calculator questions. In total, there are 139 multiple-choice and student-produced response questions.
|Section||Time||Number of Questions||Content Covered|
|Evidence-Based Reading and Writing||
95 minutes |
- Reading: 60 minutes
- Writing and Language: 35 minutes
- Reading: 47 multiple-choice questions
- Writing and Language: 44 multiple-choice questions
- Words in Context
- Command of Evidence
Writing and Language:
- Grammar and Usage
- Sentence Structure
- Idiomatic Expressions
70 minutes |
- Calculator portion: 45 minutes
- No calculator: 25 minutes
Calculator: 27 multiple-choice questions and 4 student-produced response problems
No Calculator: 13 multiple-choice questions and 4 student-produced response problems
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis (ratios, proportions, statistical concepts)|
-Heart of Algebra (linear equations, inequalities, and relationships)
-Passport to Advanced Math (non-linear equations)
-Additional topics (angles, triangles, area, volume)
The PSAT/NMSQT is a paper and pencil test administered through a student’s school district, typically at their school. A calculator can be used for a portion of the Math section, but not the entire test. The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes across all sections, not including breaks.
Each of the two sections is scored between 160 to 760, for a possible score range of 320 to 1520. Because there is no penalty for incorrect answers, students should guess even if it means filling in random answer choices.
Dates & Deadlines
Most students take the PSAT 10 during the fall of 10th grade and the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of 11th grade. Only 11thgrade students are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Some schools may choose to provide the PSAT 10 in the spring of 10th grade rather than the fall.
The 2019 PSAT was administered by schools on October 16, October 19, or October 30. In 2020, the anticipated test dates are October 14, October 17, and October 28. The specific date is determined by the respective schools, so contact your school’s Principal’s Office or College Counselor to find out more information.
The National Merit Scholarship was established in 1955 and identifies and honors academically talented U.S. high school students.
In late September of a student’s senior year, if he or she has achieved a high enough score based on the nationally applied Selection Index, which varies from year-to-year. About 34,000 of the approximately 50,000 highest scorers on the PSAT nationally fall into the category of Commended Student. The remaining portion become semi-finalists.
Semi-finalists are then required to fill out an application and take the SAT or the ACT by December of their senior year. Students that score well enough to confirm their PSAT performance become finalists. In February, approximately 8,200 seniors advance to the final stage of the competition and receive a certificate from school principals.
The ~8,200 finalists are then awarded one of three Merit Scholarships based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments evaluated through the following factors:
- Academic record in the context of a school’s curriculum and grading system
- Two sets of test scores – the PSAT and either the SAT or the ACT
- A school’s official recommendation
- Information about extracurricular activities and leadership
- The finalist’s personal essay
There are three types of Merit Scholarships a student could be awarded, and students will be notified that they have won between March and mid-June.
- National Merit $2,500 Scholarship: Every finalist competes for these single payment scholarships, which are awarded on a state representational basis
- Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship Award: Corporate sponsors designate awards to finalists that are either: 1) finalists with career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage, 2) children of employees or members, 3) residents of a community where a company operates
- College-sponsored Merit Scholarship Award: Officials of each college select winners of their awards from finalists that have been accepted and previously designated that college or university as their first choice; these awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study
For more information about the National Merit Scholarship Program, visit their website here.
The 2019-2020 PSAT registration fee is $17, although some schools may charge an additional fee to offset some of their cost to administer the test. PSAT fee waivers are available, but only for a student’s 11th grade test. If you need scholarship support, contact your school’s college counselor or principal.
The SAT provides a variety of accommodations: extended time and multiple-day testing, large print test booklets and large block answer sheets, computer-based testing, and accommodations for additional physical disabilities. You can find the full list of possible accommodations here.
It can take up to seven weeks for the College Board to approve accommodations requests, so start working with your school counselor early to submit your request. You can find more information about requesting accommodations on the College Board’s Accommodations page here.