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When it comes time to register for the PSAT and NMSQT, it’s important to know what you are signing up for. We have compiled a complete guide to answering all the questions you might have about these standardized tests.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT; it’s literally a practice SAT. Regardless of whether you plan to take the SAT or ACT, you should consider taking the exam at least once. Standardized tests are challenging, but with practice, you will be prepared for the exam that actually counts. If you plan to attend a 2-year or 4-year college after graduating from high school, you should opt to take the PSAT or any of the PSAT Suite of Assessments including PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9. 

What is the NMSQT?

NMSQT stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) funds a scholarship that awards big money to students in their junior years scoring in the highest percentiles on the PSAT. You will never know what the cutoff is for your year’s Selection Index (since it’s a percentile and those change every year). Students who do qualify as National Merit Finalists, Semi-finalists, etc. will receive money and the bragging rights on their applications. The NMSQT is only applicable for U.S. students in grade 11 or lower.

When should you take the exam?

The PSAT is offered in October each year, and you should consider taking it in your junior year of high school. (Because that’s the year you can be considered for the National Merit Scholarship). There are testing options for younger students as well. PSAT 10 is for high school sophomores, and PSAT 8/9 is for 8th graders and 9th graders. All these different versions of the PSAT assess your writing, language, and math skills. Be sure to check the website for official dates of the exam. If your school doesn’t offer the test, you can contact the College Board directly to see which schools offer it nearby. The whole objective of the exam is to get some practice before the SAT or ACT!

How will you receive your scores?

Your scores will be sent directly to your school, and your counselor will distribute them once they are tracked in their system. When you get your score report, create an account on College Board. This way, in case you lose the paper copy, you will have access to your scores online. Your code to sign up will be on the bottom of the score report.

How long is the test?

The PSAT is a shortened version of the SAT, but is still going to be considerably longer than any of the tests you take in school. In total, it will take you 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish. There are only three subjects to worry about: math, reading, and writing/language. 

Guessing vs. Omitting 

You only gain points for correct questions, which means that guessing is the exact same outcome as omitting. In other words, you should never omit again! The odds are in your favor if you take a random guess because there is a chance your guess is correct. 

The PSAT: To Prep or Not to Prep

Colleges will never see your scores, so you don’t have to worry about that. However, it might be worth preparing a little (or a lot if you’re a high scorer). If you have the potential of getting a high score, you should prepare for the exam if you’re a junior. Your PSAT score during your junior year determines whether you qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, which is not only extremely prestigious (and looks great on college applications), but also could earn you money to help pay for college.

Always remember that PSAT stands for practice SAT. This is your shot to gauge your skills before the SAT. For more information about the PSAT Suite of Assessments, check out this resource.