How to Study for the PSAT Test

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You can find even more in-depth information about the differences between the PSAT and SAT tests.

PSAT/NMSQT vs PSAT 10 vs PSAT 8/9 Tests

The College Board administers three different versions of the PSAT test based on grade level.

PSAT/NMSQT Test

This test is offered by school districts throughout the U.S. in October of 11th grade. Scores from this test determine semifinalist status for the National Merit Scholarship Program. To qualify, students have to earn a score within the top 0.5% of scores from 11th graders throughout their state. The exact score needed to qualify will vary slightly from state-to-state and year-to-year.

PSAT 10

This version of the test is available to sophomores and is the same as the PSAT/NMSQT test in terms of content and difficulty. However, there are a few key differences. Students can sit for the exam in the spring of their 10th grade year. Not every high school offers this version of the test.

We suggest that students take PSAT 10 test as extra practice for the PSAT/NMSQT test. Taking this version of the test allows you to get a feel for what to expect on test day, in addition to acting as good practice for taking the test in a proctored environment.

PSAT 8/9 Test

This test is available for 8th and 9th grade students who want to test their knowledge and skills as early as 8th grade. These scores do not count towards the National Merit Scholarships Program and not every school offers this version of the test.

We typically suggest that only advanced students who feel ready for high-level math and verbal questions take the PSAT 8/9 test. This test consists of content that students do not see until later on in the education process, and testing too early can be discouraging. But if a student feels adequately prepared, taking this test early will give him/her plenty of time to prepare before 11th grade.

Is the PSAT Test Hard?

The PSAT test is slightly easier than the SAT test, but it is still challenging. We encourage students to prepare for the test in advance instead of trying to cram at the last minute.

If you’re aiming for National Merit Semifinalist status, then you’ll want to start your preparation as soon as possible. Some high performers will start preparing with lessons, workshops, and practice tests as much as a year or two before the official test. Keep in mind that timing will vary depending on the student.

Is the PSAT required for college admission?

The PSAT test is not required for college admission. However, your score can qualify you for scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Program. Many colleges offer generous scholarships for students who earn this recognition. For example, the University of Texas at Dallas offers a full tuition scholarship plus stipend for National Merit Finalists.

When is the PSAT Test?

Unlike the SAT or ACT® tests which happen periodically throughout the year, the 11th grade PSAT test is only offered once per year in October. There are three test dates: primary, Saturday, and alternate. Most schools will offer the test on the primary test dates, but this may vary depending on the district. It’s best to check with your high school counselor to find out exactly when the PSAT test will happen at your school.

Most testers will take the PSAT test in the 11th grade, but some choose to take the PSAT 10 (10th Grade) or PSAT 8/9 (8th or 9th grade) tests as early practice for the 11th grade PSAT test. This test is not available for 12th graders, and not every school will offer the opportunity to take a version of the PSAT test before 10th grade.

Why Prepare for the PSAT Test?

Most notably, studying in advance for the PSAT test can help students achieve a score that qualifies them for the National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist status. But keep in mind that there are multiple other scholarships available for students based on their PSAT scores.

If national recognition is not one of your goals or the scores required are outside your reach, we still recommend that you consider taking the PSAT test. It’s great practice for the SAT and ACT tests.

When should you start studying for the PSAT test?

Typically, students want to start studying for the PSAT test no later than the summer before junior year. This will give time to prepare for the PSAT test in the fall and the SAT or ACT test in the winter or early spring. We suggest students complete their testing by the end of junior year. This will allow for time to focus on applying to colleges during the fall of senior year.

How many hours should you study for the PSAT test?

Dedicate a couple of hours each week to study, starting several months before the test. Remember, the PSAT test covers a lot of information and will be different from the tests you’ve taken for your high school courses. You need plenty of time to invest in subject areas where you need more practice and learn testing strategies that will help you become a more efficient and effective test taker.

8 Study Tips for PSAT Prep

1. Know What to Expect with the Test Format

Before test day, become familiar with the PSAT format. You want to develop a good understanding of the test question structure, the average length of time to allocate for each question, length of reading passages, math formulas you’ll need to memorize, and the content areas for each section.

Below you’ll find a helpful chart highlighting a few important components of the PSAT test.



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