PSAT — Everything You Need to Know



Each year, about 3.5 million high school sophomores and juniors across the United States take the Preliminary SAT, more commonly known as the PSAT. The PSAT is important for two reasons. It is a practice test for the SAT and the entrance exam for the National Merit Scholarship Competition.

The PSAT is not used in college admissions, but there are still several reasons to take it.

Many high schools require students to take the PSAT, but some make it optional. 

Here is what you need to know know about the PSAT.

Who should take the PSAT?

High school sophomores and juniors are eligible for the PSAT, and some schools may require that their students take the exam. 

Sophomores can take either the PSAT 10 or the PSAT/NMSQT but will not qualify for a National Merit Scholarship in any case. Even so, the PSAT provides a good opportunity for sophomores to practice for the SAT and to evaluate how they will perform on each section.

Juniors who take the PSAT/NMSQT have an opportunity to win scholarships based on how well they do. Every year, approximately 8,000 of the 3.5 million students who take the PSAT win scholarships. And 2,500 students win National Merit Scholarships worth $2,500. In order to become eligible for scholarships, you have to finish in the 99th percentile of test-takers.

For most students, the PSAT/NMSQT is an early opportunity to see how you can expect to do on the SAT. The two tests cover the same subjects and feature all the same sections, so you can get a strong idea of what the SAT will look like and what your individual areas of strength and weakness are.

When do you take the PSAT?

The PSAT 10 is held in the spring. For the 2024-25 academic year, high schools will administer the test on these dates:

  • March 3–April 30, 2025

The PSAT/NMSQT is held in October every year. For the 2024-25 academic year, schools may offer the test on a school day during the month of October 2024, as well as on Saturday, October 12,  2024, or Saturday, October 26, 2024.

School DayOctober 1-31, 2024
Saturday DateOctober 12, 2024 or October 26, 2024

Most students register and take the PSAT through their high school (many high schools require students to take the exam). If you’re taking the exam through your high school, your school’s administration will select the date to hold the exam. 

How long is the PSAT?

The PSAT/NMSQT lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes and includes 98 questions. 

How many sections are there?

The PSAT/NMSQT has two sections: the Reading and Writing section, and the Math section. Here’s what you can expect from each of these sections.

  • Reading and Writing

The Reading and Writing section consists of 54 questions, and you have 64 minutes to complete them.

This section is designed to test students’ reading comprehension skills, as well as their understanding of grammar and ability to identify errors and weaknesses in a piece of writing. Every test includes passages on the following subjects: literature, history/social studies, the humanities, and science.

Students must answer multiple-choice questions about those passages. Students are expected to be able to understand and analyze the passages. Students are also asked to edit the writing and correct mistakes by selecting multiple-choice answers. 

Some passages are accompanied by informational graphics, such as charts or tables. But you can answer all questions using only the reading passages and do not require prior knowledge of specific topics.

Check here for details on the Reading and and Writing section of the PSAT. 

  • Math

The Math section of the PSAT has 44 questions and is 70-minutes long.

Every test focuses on key elements of algebra, advanced math, problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry. 

Students must answer multiple-choice questions, as well as student-produced response questions that require them to produce their own answer, which they will enter in the provided field.

You may use a calculator for the entire section. A built-in graphing calculator is available, but you can also use their own calculator. Permitted calculators include all scientific calculators and most graphing calculators.

Check here for details on the Math section of the PSAT. 

How does PSAT scoring work?

PSAT scoring is complicated, but there are a few key scores that you should pay attention to. 

Here is a brief summary of each score:

Total Score (320-1520)

You will receive a total score between 320 and 1520. This is the most important score, and you should see it as your final score. Your total score will determine whether you ultimately qualify for the National Merit Scholarship and the score that will give you the best idea of how you will perform on the SAT. It is the sum of your two section scores. 

Two Section Scores (160-760)

You will receive a section score between 160 and 760 each for Math and for Reading and Writing. 

NMSC Selection Index Score (48-228)

The “selection index” is a score used to determine who qualifies for the National Merit Scholarship. Therefore, it is the only score you’ll see on your score report that is unique to the PSAT and not included in the SAT. 

This score is calculated by multiplying your Reading and Writing Score by 2, adding that number to your Math score, and then dividing that sum by 10. For example, if you have a Reading and Writing score of 700 and a Math score of 690, your selection index score is 209. 

If you are trying to win a National Merit Scholarship, you will want to pay attention to how you performed on the test in comparison with other test-takers. The top 1% of PSAT-takers in each state qualify as semifinalists for the scholarship.

What is considered a good PSAT score?

The PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520. 

A score in the range of 1210-1520 will put you in the top 10% of test-takers.

Check here to understand your percentile rank. 

What is considered a good PSAT Score for the NMSQT?

Technically speaking, your PSAT score does not determine whether you qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (the organization that gives out the scholarship) converts all PSAT scores into a “Selection Index Score,” as explained above, which is scored between a minimum of 48 and a maximum of 228. This is the score that is used to determine who qualifies for the scholarship.

Cutoff scores vary by year based on the difficulty of the test. 

And each state has a different cutoff score for the National Merit Scholarship competition, based on how students in that specific state performed on the PSAT. 

For the class of 2024, the lowest state cutoff score was 207 (New Mexico, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming ), and the highest state cutoff score was 223 (New Jersey, Washington D.C., and U.S. students studying abroad). 

Check here for further details on state cutoff scores and entry into the National Merit Scholarship.

When do you receive your PSAT scores?

Sophomores generally take the PSAT in March or April. These students typically receive their test scores at the end of May or early June.

Juniors typically take the PSAT/NMSQT in October. These students can expect to receive their scores in December.

Should you prepare for the PSAT?

While the PSAT is definitely worth taking, most students do not need to exhaustively prepare for it like they would prepare for the SAT. Your PSAT score will not be seen by colleges and does not factor at all into college admissions.

High scorers may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, but keep in mind that only the top 1% of test-takers in each state become semifinalists for the award. If you realistically think you can get a perfect or near-perfect score on the PSAT, then by all means you should prepare extensively for the test. Check out our favorite PSAT prep courses here.

But for sophomores and all but the highest-scoring juniors, spending hundreds of dollars and hours of your precious time on a PSAT class simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Rather, use the PSAT as an early benchmark for the SAT, so you can see what areas of the test you do well in and where you need to improve. You may want to take a practice test before going in to get a sense of the structure and pace of the exam, but it is absolutely not necessary. In fact, many students intentionally go into the exam without any preparation so that they get the best sense of what their baseline score is.

However, taking a practice PSAT before the exam may be worthwhile, if only to get a feel for the duration, difficulty, and pace of the test.

Are there free PSAT practice tests?

Many different study sites and educational resources, such as Khan Academy, offer free PSAT practice tests. Taking a practice test allows you to get an early sense of what to expect on the PSAT without having to go through (and pay for) a full course.


If you are taking the PSAT this year, consider it an excellent opportunity to get an early sense of what the SAT is like and how you might do on it. For the ambitious few out there shooting for a National Merit Scholarship, go out and get it! But for most students, the PSAT should be mostly pressure-free.

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