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Students’ Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT

Students’ Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT

Students across the US will take the PSAT/NMSQT this October, and for many this will be their initial introduction to the rigors of college entrance examinations. Before heading into the test, 10th and 11th graders need to know what to expect and how the PSAT/NMSQT can impact their college preparation strategy.

What is the PSAT/NMSQT?
The PSAT/NSMQT is a preliminary version of the SAT. It is meant to prepare students for taking the SAT (or ACT) by simulating a shorter version of the exam, exposing students to relevant testing material, and showing students where they need to improve in order to reach their goal score on the SAT. The PSAT/NMSQT is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). This means that students who obtain a certain score on the PSAT can qualify for National Merit Scholarships, which can go a long way toward financing your college education.

SectionsTimeNumber of QuestionsScoring
Evidence-Based Reading60 min.47160-760
Evidence-Based Writing and Language Test35 min.44
Math70 min.
(25 min. no calculator; 45 min. with calculator)
TOTAL2 hours and 45 minutes139320-1520


How is the PSAT/NMSQT Scored?
The PSAT/NMSQT scores provide a clear picture of college readiness. The scores will help you pinpoint areas for improvement and show targeted areas of weakness. By using a common vertical score scale, the PSAT/NMSQT shows growth across grade levels and predicts future results on the SAT. In addition, score reports also use colors to show how students’ section scores relate to the SAT or grade-level benchmark.


PSAT/NMSQT Score ReportedDescriptionScore Range
Total scoreSum of the two section scores.320–1520
Section scores (2)Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math.160–760
Test scores (3)Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.8–38
Cross-test scores (2)Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. Based on selected questions in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests.8–38
Subscores (7)Reading and Writing and Language: Command of Evidence and Words in Context.Writing and Language: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions.

Math: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.


 Should I prep for the PSAT?
While some people might advise students to go into the test without preparation in order to more accurately gauge what they’ve learned and how they can improve, students can only benefit from prepping for the PSAT/NMSQT.

First, it can help students reach a score that can qualify them for National Merit Scholarships. Again, this scholarship money can do a lot to help students finance their college dreams. Why leave scholarship money on the table when a little bit of prep can help?

Second, it can help students get a head start on their SAT and ACT prep. We advise all students to take both the SAT and ACT in order to determine which test is the best fit for their abilities. By preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT, students will have a head start on their regular SAT or ACT test-prep, and, while the PSAT/NMSQT is a precursor to the SAT, the same material knowledge and test-taking strategies can be applied to the ACT.

How can I prep for the PSAT/NMSQT?
There are a number of ways that students can prep for the PSAT/NMSQT before the test day in October.

First, take some practice tests. The College Board offers a free, full-length PSAT practice test along with an answer key and additional practice questions. Students can also find additional practice tests through a simple web search or by signing up for a free Khan Academy account.

Second, practice some common test-taking strategies like process of elimination, skimming reading passages, working backwards by reading the questions before the passages, and skipping difficult questions and coming back to them later. By practicing these common strategies, students will be able to better pace and complete the sections within the allotted time.

Students should also seek out test prep help at school or with a trusted tutor. Some schools might offer PSAT/NMSQT or SAT prep after school, so take advantage of those opportunities if available. If you need additional help, reach out to a tutor who can help you assess where you need to improve and what test prep techniques will help you reach your goals.

At IvyWise we have a team of expert tutors that can help students prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT and continue the appropriate test prep strategy as students transition into preparing for the SAT or ACT. For more information on our tutoring services, contact us today and be sure to check out our tutoring demo!