What is the PSAT?

The PSAT/NMSQT stands for Preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It is offered during the student’s junior year in either October or November, depending on the particular high school. It is a standardized test that is approximately two hours and twenty minutes long, with two 25-minute critical reading sections, two 25-minute math sections, and one 30-minute writing skills section. The test consists of 48 critical reading questions, 38 math questions, and 39 writing skills question. The PSAT/NMSQT does not require students to recall specific information from classes.

The PSAT provides the students with firsthand practice for the SAT I Reasoning Test. The PSAT/NMSQT also gives students the chance to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s scholarship programs. The PSAT/NMSQT measures:

  • Verbal reasoning skills
  • Critical reasoning skills
  • Math problem-solving skills
  • Writing skills

Schools usually register students for the PSAT. Therefore, the students do not need to do anything. Instructions about when the test is being administered and other information should be sent home from the school to the parents. The principal and/or school counselor should be contacted for information about taking the PSAT/NMSQT.

How is the PSAT/ NMSQT scored?

  • Each correct answer = 1 full point, regardless of the difficulty level
  • Each unanswered question = 0 points
  • Each incorrect answer to a Student-Produced Response question = 0 points
  • Each incorrect answer to a multiple choice question (with 5 answer choices) = minus 1/4 pts

The points for each section (critical reading, math, and writing skills) are then converted to scores on the PSAT/NMSQT scale of 20 to 80. Scores can be converted to approximate SAT scores by multiplying by 10 (200 to 800).

Each section of the PSAT is scored evenly and the total can range from 60 points to 240 points. Each year, the score to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship varies according to state. For example, last year’s score to qualify as a semi-finalist for the state of Georgia was 215. That score is a composite of the math section, the critical reading section, and writing skills section.

Tips for taking the PSAT/NMSQT

The following information is taken from The College Board’s Preview of the Expanded PSAT/NMSQT.

  • Know the directions for each kind of question.
  • Expect easy questions at the beginning of each group of questions.
  • Earn as many points as possible on easy questions.
  • Read all the answer choices for the multiple-choice questions.
  • Do scratchwork in the test book.
  • Work steadily.
  • Place multiple-choice answers in the correct rows.
  • Practice and have a thorough understanding of how to complete math grids.

Using a calculator

It is necessary that the student has a calculator with which he/she is comfortable. A four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator may be used. The calculator does not need to be used on every question. No question requires a calculator to find the answer. However, studies indicate that students who use calculators do slightly better than those who do not.

Students should decide how to solve each problem, then decide whether to use a calculator. Practicing sample questions with a calculator on hand under conditions similar to those on test day will benefit the student when it is time to take the actual test.

Students should not buy a sophisticated or new calculator just to take the PSAT/NMSQT. Pocket organizers, hand-held or laptop computers, electronic writing pads or pen-input devices, calculators with a typewriter-like keypad, calculators with paper tape, calculators that makes noises or “talks,” or calculators that requires an electrical outlet are not allowed.

Doing well on the PSAT/NMSQT

The following information is taken from The College Board’s Preview of the Expanded PSAT/NMSQT.

Students can prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT by:

  • Take rigorous academic courses in English, the arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages.
  • Read, expand your vocabulary, writing frequently, and developing problem-solving skills.
  • Become familiar with different kinds of test questions.
  • Learn hints and directions for each kind of question.
  • Practice strategies for taking tests.
  • Read thoroughly the PSAT/NMSQT Student Bulletin available from schools in the fall.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep, then having breakfast on the day of the test.

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