PSAT is the short form of Preliminary SAT. It is also known as NMSQT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The test acts as an opportunity for practice for the SAT Reasoning Test. Besides, you can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship programs on the basis of the exam.

PSAT is jointly sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The College Board is an organization of over 5,400 educational institutions. It is a not-for-profit association whose programs and services include college admission assistance, guidance, evaluation, monetary aid, enrollment, and teaching and learning assistance.
PSAT gains importance due to being organized by the College Board and because of its affinity with the SAT.
Does Taking PSAT help you?
Yes, taking PSAT is definitely helpful to students. It becomes more important for you to take the PSAT if you are contemplating taking the SAT for college admission. The key benefits of taking the PSAT are

  • It assists you in preparation for SAT. The test items in PSAT and SAT are similar and hence PSAT can qualify as an excellent opportunity to practice for SAT.
  • The exam helps as a self-evaluation tool. You understand what your weak points are and can concentrate on those. Moreover, understanding what your strong points are helps you make the most of them.
  • You get an idea of where you stand in competition with other SAT aspirants owing to the reporting of percentiles in PSAT.
  • You can avail the opportunity for entering programs for scholarships. PSAT acts as an initial screening of aspirants for some scholarship programs.
  • You can sign up for Student Search Service and hence get information from colleges about their admission and scholarship programs.

Skills tested in PSAT
The exam tests students for the knowledge they have gained and the abilities they have developed through years of education. The basic skills required for successfully completing college level education are evaluated in PSAT. However, the pattern of PSAT is such that recall of precise details is not required.
The exam puts a figure on three main skills               

  • Critical reading
  • Math problem-solving
  • Writing

Registration and Cost
PSAT is administered in high schools. It is not conducted in test centers, unlike most competitive exams. An applicant has to approach a high school to register for the exam. Home schooled students can also take the PSAT. The test is generally conducted in the month of October.
You pay $13 for taking the test. Additional charges might be incurred by the high school you test at. Fee waivers are also available through the College Board. The facility of online registration is not available for PSAT.
What are the PSAT test sections?
The two hours and 10 minutes long test contains five sections, two each on critical reading and math and one on writing.

Critical Reading: There are 48 questions in each of the two 25-minute sections, 13 based on sentence completion and 35 on passage-based critical reading. Sentence completion questions are meant for testing your ability to understand words and sentence structure. Passage-based critical reading questions test your ability to understand the direct and implied statements in a passage or a pair of passages.

Math: There are 38 questions in each of the two 25-minute sections, 28 multiple-choice questions and 10 grid-ins. Multiple-choice questions require you to pick the correct answer from five answer options and grid-ins require you to compute the answer and enter it in a grid. The content of the exam is related with numbers and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measurement and data analysis, probability and statistics.

Writing: This 30-minute section contains 39 multiple-choice questions, 14 on identifying sentence errors, 20 on improving sentences and 5 on improving paragraphs. Your knowledge of grammar, words, idioms and their usage is tested by questions on identifying sentence errors. Your understanding of errors in usage and structure is tested through questions on improving sentences. Questions on improving paragraphs test your ability to improve reason, lucidity and organization in a passage.

Understanding PSAT Scoring Procedure

Initially, raw scores are calculated and then they are converted to scaled scores for each section. The scaled scores range from 20 to 80.
To calculate the raw score, each correctly answered question is given one point. All the questions are rated equally. An incorrect response will result in a negative ¼ point; except for grid-ins. Unanswered questions do not have any negative impact on the raw score.
The raw scores are converted to scaled scores through a method called equating. This is done to equalize any difference that might exist between tests administered on different dates in different years. Hence, equating makes scaled scores comparable.   
Features of PSAT that are useful to Colleges and Students

  • Percentiles are given on the score report for each section. Juniors and sophomores can compare their performances with other juniors and sophomores. This gives them an understanding of where they stand at a national level.
  • The College Board suggests that schools use PSAT scores as a tool to assist students in assessment of skills, preparation for SAT, peer-to-peer comparisons and educational planning.
  • The score report contains the Selection Index. It helps as an estimator for determining eligibility for NMSC programs. The selection index is the sum of the scores of the three PSAT test sections. The range of Selection Index is 60-240. 147 is the average Selection Index for eleventh graders.
  • Complete review of the answers including the correct answer, your response and level of difficulty for each question is given in Score Report Plus. This helps students understand their performance.
  • Students are given information about their weaknesses and related suggestions for improvement in the Score Report Plus under ‘Improve Your Skills’.
  • The College Board claims that the PSAT scale of 20-80 is comparable to the SAT scale of 200-800. Hence, PSAT can be helpful in predicting performance in SAT.
  • The score report also contains information about the type of study suited to the abilities of students. They can then use MyRoad and My College QuickStart to explore college education options for themselves.
  • PSAT scores make you eligible for entering scholarship and consultative programs run by National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP), National Scholarship Service (NSSFNS) and The Telluride Association.

Preparing for PSAT
PSAT is based on knowledge gained through years of education. This might make students think that their present skill levels are sufficient for handling the exam. However, since PSAT is a standardized test one does need to prepare for its standard question types. You are unlikely to have experience enough to take the exam successfully and might not be able to perform to your optimum level without preparation. Besides, when you prepare for PSAT, you are grooming yourself for SAT as well, as they both contain similar question types. Hence, preparation for PSAT is preliminary preparation for SAT. 
Some tips that can come in handy for preparation are as follows

  • Understand what each type of question asks you to do and practice strategies for answering them.
  • Practice how to make educated guesses. You shall be penalized for wrong answers; nonetheless, it is important to learn how to arrive at the best possible answer through logical thinking.
  • The website has ample sample questions that can be used for practice.
  • It is not important to attempt all the questions in PSAT in order to score average or above average. The College Board declares that almost 80 percent of test takers reach the last question. Hence, it is more important to attempt each question carefully rather than hurriedly completing the test.
  • Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT: You can obtain this guide at your school guidance office. Besides other features, Official Student Guide contains one full-length practice test with answers and their explanations available online.
  • The Official SAT Question of the Day and Official SAT Practice Test: These two official sources of preparation can help you prepare for PSAT. You can view the answers and their explanations online.

PSAT acts as the best way for you to rehearse for the SAT. Taking it shall prove to be an enriching experience, irrespective of your performance. Make the most of this opportunity and explore your future options.

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