An underestimated resource, the PSAT contains many unknowns for students and their families - starting with its name.
PSAT does not stand for Practice SAT, as most people believe.
It’s the Preliminary SAT.
Knowing that sets you up for success. Being aware that the PSAT is important in its own right and knowing what to expect on the PSAT will start you on the strongest possible path for taking the SAT (or ACT) later.
Every student deserves to know what to expect on the PSAT in order to step up to the batter’s box on test day, prepared to smash each question out of the park!
This article will unpack the following questions to help you do just that:
- When is it?
- How is it formatted?
- What does it cover?
- How do you prepare for it?
- Additional expert PSAT tips
- The latest PSAT info (especially the upcoming switch to a digital test format)
Want even more?
Both this SAT Complete Package course and this ACT Complete Package course include a free PSAT Quick Prep course as a bonus. You’ll also get free entrance to the very popular “Cash For College” course. With access to all of it for a full year, you can start with the PSAT prep and then easily transition to the ACT or SAT to get into your dream college and also know the best ways to pay for it.
When Is The PSAT?
The PSAT is offered once a year in the middle of October.
Scores are released online by mid-December.
If you’re a sophomore or freshman, you can take the PSAT as a practice, but your score for the National Merit Scholarship only counts in your junior year.
So don’t squander the opportunity.
How Is The PSAT Formatted?
Overall, the PSAT is more condensed than the SAT, but it’s still long, intense, and worth taking seriously.
You’ll have 139 questions and it will last 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The PSAT consists of three mostly multiple-choice sections:
- Reading Test
- Writing and Language Test
- Math Test
What Does The PSAT Cover?
The PSAT is intended to test your comprehension and ability to utilize key academic components of reading, writing, and mathematics.
PSAT Reading Test
Usually, 5 reading passages - either stand-alone or a pair to be read together - are what to expect on the PSAT in the reading section.
The passages are selected from:
- A literary work of fiction
- A U.S. founding document or global work inspired by those works
- A passage from social science (think economics, psychology, sociology)
- A scientific work (think biology, chemistry, physics)
You’ll have 60 minutes to answer 47 questions about the passages.
The goal is to test your ability to uncover evidence to support the author’s ideas, understand the meaning of unfamiliar words in context, interpret and consider perspectives, and examine relationships between graphics and reading.
You won’t be asked to have previous knowledge of the subjects being discussed. Your answers will be found in the passage content given to you.
PSAT Writing and Language Test
What to expect on the PSAT in the writing and language section is a test of your ability to recognize places to improve the author’s intended message and to correct written errors.
You’ll be given four narrative or argumentative passages, usually non-fiction, and have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions about the passages (11 questions for each passage).
The improvements you’ll be asked to make could include:
- Development or organization of the work
- Sentence structure (think run-ons or incomplete sentences)
- Grammar (think missing a subject or verb)
- Word selection/usage (think lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement)
- Punctuation (think too many or two few commas)
PSAT Math Test
Common algebra, geometry, statistics, and pre-calculus principles are what to expect on the PSAT in the math section.
You’ll have 70 minutes for 48 questions.
You’ll probably also be asked to fill in a couple of your own answers, rather than selecting from multiple options.
Some math resources are provided in your test booklet, but they won’t do you any good if you don’t know what they mean and how to use them. Start with memorizing what’s provided so you don’t waste time flipping back and forth between them.
Math Reference Provided On The PSAT:
Also, be sure to review the math concepts you’re learning in school, as that is what the PSAT is aiming to test.
How (& Why!) To Study For The PSAT
You’ve got one shot that counts on the PSAT (unlike the SAT or ACT that you can take multiple times). Know how to study so you can get the most out of this opportunity to…
- Accumulate testing strategies that you can use for the SAT or ACT later.
- Decrease your stress and effort by not waiting until the last minute to get ready.
- Earn Scholarships!
- Earn an academic honor through one of the National Recognition Programs if you are an underrepresented student identifying in one of the recognition areas; these honors can help you gain entrance to college or to other scholarships beyond the National Merit Scholarship.
- Start your college application process with a strong, decisive step and set yourself up for success in your future academics and career.
PSAT Study Guide
The PSAT is definitely one of those “study smarter not harder” situations. Check out our PSAT Strategies For Success Guide, prepare yourself with the best PSAT tips from the experts (listed below), and be sure to drill PSAT practice questions so you’ll know what to expect and be ready come test day.
PSAT Study Tips
There is much cross-over between preparing for the SAT vs. the PSAT. Here are our experts’ recommendations:
Read boring material.
You’ll encounter a lot of dense literature on the test. Make sure your mind has practice focusing and analyzing things you don’t want to read - especially if you want to do better on the reading section.
Practice like it’s the real thing.
It’s not the same pressure as the SAT or ACT because no college will see your PSAT scores. So use this as an opportunity to help yourself improve at standardized tests. By practicing like every time is real, you’ll gain an essential understanding of how you’ll perform and know where to focus your attention as you study.Use a full-length PSAT Practice Test to up your game. It’s the only way to get better.
Accuracy is always better than speed.
Every point counts. Don’t miss an easy or trick question by rushing.
Fill in all the bubbles.
No penalties for wrong answers. Answer as many questions correctly as you can, then guess at the end.
Write on your test.
This is a good way to clear your head if you get stuck or bored. Eliminate wrong answers or mark questions that you skipped to return to. Circle correct answers to double-check at the end.
See your score as a reflection of where you are right now, not how smart or capable you are.
By looking at what questions you missed, you can quickly determine the principles and types of questions to focus on in your SAT or ACT studying to earn your highest possible score.Remember, no college is going to see your PSAT score. Use it as a tool to learn from.
Download the free Insider’s Guide to the ACT & SAT for even more in-depth tips.
Pick up extra points (and avoid the pesky traps that the test-makers lay for unsuspecting students!) with this eBook’s useful advice and helpful test-taking strategies.
Know what to bring with you, including acceptable calculators, and pack your bag the night before.
Eat. Drink. Move.
Eat an energizing breakfast and bring a snack for the break. Drink water to stay hydrated, but not so much that you need to go to the restroom during the test. Move around to warm up your brain both before the test and during the break.
Latest PSAT Info
PSAT IN THE NEWS: The SATs & PSATs are moving to a digital format next year. The PSAT will be in its new digital format starting in the fall of 2023.In the meantime, the tips above are the very best, most relevant strategies for tackling this test. If you want more details, here is everything to know about the upcoming digital PSAT and SAT. More questions? Reach out to the Higher Scores Team here.