The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is administered by the College Board once a year in October. Freshmen and sophomores may take the test; however, only the PSAT taken in the junior year will be used as the basis for the National Merit competition. The PSAT, like the SAT, consists of three main sections: Reading, Writing & Language, and Math (both with and without a calculator). There are 760 possible points on the Math section. The Reading and Writing & Language sections are combined for a possible total of 760 points. The composite score is the sum of these two scores. The Selection Index is the sum of the three test scores (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math), each of which ranges from 8 to 38.
The PSAT is worth taking seriously for two main reasons: it serves as a good practice for the SAT (as the tests are almost the same) and it qualifies high-scoring juniors for the coveted National Merit Scholarship competition. The Selection Index cutoff for National Merit Semifinalists varies by state and is based on the top one percent of scorers in a state. Students above this cutoff become National Merit Semifinalists and may apply to become Finalists. (This process is by and large a formality, since about 15,000 of 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists.)
There are two important differences between the PSAT and the SAT: 1) the PSAT is a shorter test, completed in 2 hours and 45 minutes as compared to the SAT, which is completed in 3 hours; and 2) the SAT has an optional essay component, while the PSAT does not.
For a complete comparison between the PSAT and the SAT, see our handy Comparison Chart.
For more questions about the PSAT, please visit our FAQ page!