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About the PSAT

Over three million high school students take the Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) each year. Like the SAT, the PSAT is designed to measure the ability to understand and process elements of reading, writing, and mathematics. Students take the PSAT/NMSQT in their junior year to determine National Merit scholarship eligibility and to prepare for the SAT.

The College Board now also offers two PSAT variations: the PSAT 10 for sophmores, and the PSAT 8/9 for freshmen and eighth graders. These variations generate score reports that measure students’ college readiness and skillsets. While the PSAT 10 shares the same format as the PSAT/NMSQT, the PSAT 8/9 is shorter and features less complex content. Read more about the PSAT variations.

Test Format

The PSAT/NMSQT has undergone significant changes in recent years, including in its scoring mechanisms. Read more about PSAT scoring scales.

The test consists of four sections:

The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 both have a total testing time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. There are no experimental sections or unscored questions on the PSAT.

The Reading Test

The Reading Test is based on text passages, and all questions are multiple choice with four answer choices. Some include informational graphics such as tables or charts, but this section does not require any math skills. It does not test prior knowledge of specific topics—all the questions can be answered using the reading passage provided. The Reading Test always includes the following:

The Writing and Language Test

The new Writing and Language Test asks student to think like editors by reading passages and identifying errors and weaknesses. All questions are based on passages and have multiple choice answers. Like the Reading Test, some questions in this section have an accompanying graph or chart, but this section does not require any math. This section also does not test specific topics or content knowledge. All of the information required to answer the questions correctly is provided by the passage. The passages used in this section cover a wide range of topics, including history, social studies, science, and the humanities.

The Math Test

The Math Test has been redesigned to include two portions: one using a calculator, and one without. Both portions of the test focus in depth on the three areas of math most widely used in most college majors and careers: algebra, problem solving and data analysis, and manipulations of complex equations. Besides these three major areas, the Math Test will also test students’ knowledge of geometry, trigonometry, and common theorems or formulas.

While most of the questions are multiple choice, the Math Test contains 17 grid-in questions. Instead of choosing from a pre-provided list of possible answers, students must solve the problem and then enter the answer in the grid provided on their answer sheet.