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The PSAT as a Practice Test


This October, sophomores and juniors across the country will be taking the PSAT. For many high school students, this is their first standardized college admissions test. The PSAT is two hours and forty-five minutes long and has two components: an Evidence-based Reading & Writing Test and a Math Test. Individual section scores range from 160-760 with a total score range of 320-1520.

The PSAT test serves four main purposes:

  • It provides a realistic test-taking experience in preparation for the SAT.
  • It is an early indicator of strengths and areas for improvement.
  • It gives students a sense for how they would score on the SAT.
  • The National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses the junior year PSAT/NMSQT scores to select candidates for Merit Scholarship awards.

Often we are asked by families – should we prepare for the PSAT test? Generally speaking, we don’t recommend test prep for the PSAT. Remember, this is a practice test. The PSAT is not a required test nor is it used for college admission. We recognize, however, that test prep planning is a highly individualized process, and there are some exceptions. Students who get anxious or those who have the potential to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program could benefit from PSAT test prep.

PSAT Score as a Predictor of SAT Score

You can use the PSAT score to predict how you would have scored on the SAT. The SAT and PSAT assessments all share a common, continuous scoring scale (120 – 800), which allows educators to track a student’s progress from one test to the next and to anticipate a student’s SAT score. For example a student who scored 650 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) section and 700 on the Math section of the PSAT would have gotten the same score on the SAT had they taken the SAT on that day.

PSAT as a Qualifying Test for National Merit

As mentioned above, the junior year PSAT/NMSQT is used to determine eligibility for honors and scholarships via the National Merit Scholarship Program. Consequently, the junior year PSAT is referred to as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Until students progress beyond the semifinalist stage, honors are based exclusively on a number called the Selection Index. To calculate your Selection Index, add up your Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores then multiply by two. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation sets the Selection Index criteria by state. For example, in the diagram below is a list of the Semifinalist Score Cutoffs for Class of 2018 in 8 northeastern states (Selection Index range of 215 – 223).

National Merit Scholarship Program

The 2019 National Merit Scholarship Competition began in October 2017 and Scholarship Winners are expected to be announced in March 2019. Below is a timeline of the process. High school juniors taking the PSAT/NMSQT in October 2018 will learn next September 2019 if they are among the semifinalists.

nmsqt timeline class of 2019

As always, if you have any questions or need advice please leave a comment below or feel free to contact us.



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