Standardized tests are such a prominent part of the educational process today that sometimes they all start to seem the same. Some standardized tests, however, are specifically designed to help students qualify for certain scholarships, like the PSAT test.

If you want to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, you need to take and score well on the PSAT in high school. Knowing more about the test, the question formats, subject areas and how it’s scored can help you earn a top score and improve your chances of securing a National Merit Scholarship for your college studies.

What Is the PSAT Test?

The PSAT definition is Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test. You take this standardized test is high school, and it mimics the SAT. It serves as a National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). The PSAT is completely aligned with the SAT, which gives students who take it a preview of how they are likely to score on the SAT.

The only difference between the PSAT and the SAT test is that the PSAT is slightly shorter and does not require an essay. However, the material, structure, format and knowledge required are identical. From a functional standpoint, the difference between the PSAT and the SAT lies in what it can be used for. The PSAT cannot be used for college admission, but it can be used to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. The SAT, on the other hand, can be used for college admission but cannot be used to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.

What Is on the PSAT?

The PSAT is made up of three sections designed to test your skills in evidence-based reading, writing and math. The test takes two hours and 45 minutes to complete. For the evidence-based reading section, you’ll have 60 minutes to answer 47 questions that measure your reading comprehension and understanding of vocabulary in context.

The writing section measures your knowledge of grammar and proper usage through 44 questions that you’ll have 35 minutes to complete.

The first math session is 45 minutes long and allows the option of using a calculator. On the other hand, the second math session is 25 minutes long and does not allow the use of a calculator. The skills covered in the math section of the PSAT include algebra, problem solving and data analysis, advanced math concepts and additional topics in geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus.

How Is the PSAT Scored?

While the PSAT is scored using the same rubric as the SAT, it uses a slightly different scale. The PSAT scale ranges from 320 to 1520. The SAT scale, by comparison, ranges from 400 to 1600. The three main scores you should look at on your PSAT results include your total score, your evidence-based reading and writing score and your math score.

The total score represents the sum of your section scores in the range of 320 to 1520. The reading and writing score ranges from 160 to 760 as does the math section. Your total score is a good indicator of how you are likely to perform on the real SAT. The individual section scores are helpful in showing you what areas your strengths and weaknesses may lie in.

Target your weaknesses with additional prep before you take the SAT. Your PSAT score report will also include a national percentile that compares your score to those of everyone else who took the test on the same date. The higher your percentile ranking, the better you did. If you rank in the 90th percentile, that means that you performed better than 90 percent of the students who took the PSAT on the same day as you.

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About the Author

Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University and works full-time as a classroom teacher in a public school. She teaches middle school English to a wide range of students from struggling readers to advanced and gifted populations. In her spare time, she loves writing articles about education for TheClassroom.com, WorkingMother and other education sites.