The Preliminary SAT or PSAT is a test administered by the College Board to juniors (and some sophomores) in October. It is a test that officially marks the beginning of your SAT process and is a helpful diagnostic tool. The PSAT contains the same kinds of questions you find on the SAT and therefore gives you a good sense of what the actual test is like.
The PSAT includes multiple-choice questions on vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, algebra, geometry, and numbers and operations. It covered this material exactly as the SAT does, but with half the number of sections.
The SAT consists of ten sections. Three sections of Reading are comprised of two sections of twenty-four questions and one section of nineteen questions. Three sections of Math are comprised of one section of twenty questions, one section of eighteen questions, and one section of sixteen questions. Finally, the three sections of Writing are comprised of an essay, a section of thirty-five questions, and a section of fourteen questions.
The PSAT consists of five sections. There are two sections of Reading containing twenty-four questions each. There are two sections of Math, one of which contains twenty questions, and one of which contains eighteen questions. Finally, there is a single writing section that contains thirty-nine questions. The PSAT contains no essay.
The PSAT is scored exactly like the SAT. The test taker is awarded one full point for each correct answer, is deducted a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer, and is neither awarded nor deducted any points for leaving a question blank. The PSAT score is compiled by totaling up a raw score in each the reading, writing, and math sections and then converting those raw scores to scaled scores and adding them together. The PSAT is scored out of a total of 240 points, equally distributed among reading, writing, and math.
No college admissions officers ever see your PSAT score. It does not figure into your college application explicitly and neither enlarges nor limits the schools you can apply to. Yet the PSAT is a very important test for a couple reasons and definitely worth taking seriously.
First of all, the PSAT is your first interaction with the SAT. It gives you a sense of the kinds of questions you will be asked on the SAT, the pace of the test, the endurance required, and the content that is covered. You need to prepare for the PSAT to be sure you have a good experience with it so you can set the stage for a successful run on the SAT.
Also, a high score on the PSAT makes your eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. If you score in the 99th percentile (in most states) you’ll be eligible for this prestigious scholarship. It doesn’t mean you’ll definitely win the scholarship but even being eligible is an honor and a great resume line for you.
All this is to say, study hard, focus, have fun and the PSAT can be a great experience.