The PSAT: What It Is and Why It Matters

The PSAT is a dress rehearsal for the SAT. And, if you score high enough, it might also lead to a scholarship.

If there's one moment when the whole "college thing" starts to get very real, it's when you sit down to take the PSAT. It's the kick-off to college admission testing.

The PSAT Gives You a Preview of the SAT

While the PSAT is not an exact replica of the SAT, it serves as an excellent introduction to the test because the questions and test format are similar. It includes three tests: Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics. The PSAT is shorter than the three-hour SAT, clocking in at two hours and 45 minutes.

Your PSAT Scores Help Identify Areas for Improvement

Your test results will give you an idea of how you might perform on the SAT and provide feedback about the areas where you need to improve. Subscores will be available for every PSAT test section, providing added insight for students, parents, teachers, and counselors. Your PSAT scores are not reported to any colleges.

Where Merit Scholarships Come In

If you take the PSAT as a junior and are one of the 50,000 highest-scoring test takers, you will be considered for a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship. To have a chance of winning the scholarship, semifinalists must keep up their grades in high school, do well on the SAT, write a biographical letter, and submit letters of recommendation.

When and Where to Take the PSAT

Students generally take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year. If you want to get an earlier start, you can take a version of the PSAT for eighth and ninth graders (the PSAT 8/9) or for sophomores (the PSAT 10). These tests are also similar to the SAT, but contain questions that are better aligned with what students have learned at these grade levels. Students taking the PSAT 8/9 and 10 are not eligible for the National Merit or other scholarships, and their scores are not shared with any colleges.

Your high school will administer the PSAT in the fall of your junior year and choose the test date and location. Your school will receive your scores in early to mid-December and distribute them to you.

Registration and Cost

You will register for the PSAT at your high school. There is a small fee to take the test. Fee waivers are available to low-income students. For details, talk to your counselor or contact the College Board.

Preparing for the PSAT

Your high school will give you a booklet that includes sample questions from each section of the test. Additional information and sample questions are available from the College Board website. If you want to invest additional time and money preparing, commercial PSAT test preparation books and courses are available.

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