The PSAT/NMSQT Test Summary
What: The PSAT prepares students for the SAT and qualifies them for National Merit Scholarships.
Who: High school sophomore and juniors take the exam. It is administered by the College Board.
Where: The PSAT is offered at high schools in the US.
When: The PSAT is offered in October.
How: Multiple choice and open ended questions.
Type: The PSAT is a paper and pencil exam.
Why: Students use it both as a practice test and to qualify for a scholarship.
Time: The PSAT takes a little more than two hours.
Language: English
Preparation: Preparation and study are key to scoring high on this exam.
Cost: $13

By Elizabeth M. Burkhart, Tests.com Contributing Writer

The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT and is taken by high school sophomores as a practice test before the SAT Reasoning and Subject tests. The PSAT is sometimes referred to as the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, as PSAT scores are used to grant scholarships to students who score highest nationally.

The PSAT measures critical reading, writing and mathematics skills and gives a student valuable testing experience in preparation for the important SAT examination and also provides test takers with information about their strengths and weaknesses.

PSAT Exam Components
The PSAT is comprised of five sections, two 25-minute sections in critical reading; two 25-minute sections in math; and one 30-minute section in writing.

The critical reading test has two 25-minute sections with a total of 48 questions, including 13 on sentence completion and 35 critical reading questions.

This section measures the test taker’s ability to understand a main idea in a passage, tests whether a student understands the tone of the passage, evaluates if a student can make connections between various parts of a passage and examines the student’s ability to compare and contrast ideas. Questions in this section are multiple choice.

The math sections include 38 questions: 28 multiple-choice questions and 10 student-response questions. Students are tested on basic operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis, statistics and probability. Calculators are permitted.
Finally, the writing skills section asks 39 questions. Students are asked to identify sentence errors in 14 questions; improve sentences in 20 questions; and improve a paragraph in five questions. All questions are multiple choice.

PSAT Scores
The PSAT is scored from 20 (low) to 80 (high) for each section. Average student scores in 2008 for high school juniors were 47 in critical reading, 49 in math and 46 in writing skills.
PSAT scores are important because not only do they give students an indication of how they might perform on the SAT, they can be used to help students understand their weaknesses, if any, giving them time to prepare for the SAT. The score report includes all questions and answers, so students can see exactly which questions they answered wrong. Additionally, the PSAT score is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) to determine eligibility for NMSC scholarships.

National Merit Scholarship Program
All three section scores are combined to create a Selection Index, which is used to determine one’s eligibility. The Selection Index ranges from 60 to 240, and the average student has a Selection Index of 147.

More than 50,000 of the highest-scoring high school students will qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top third scorers will qualify as semifinalists for the scholarship program, while the lower two-thirds of scorers will be designated as Commended Students.
Semifinalists are the highest-scoring students in their state, and qualify to continue with exceptional academic records, completion of the scholarship application and SAT scores that mirror their PSAT scores.

As many as 15,000 semifinalists will advanced to Final Standing, where they will be evaluated based on academic record, recommendations, activities, leadership, test scores and an essay. Approximately 8,200 students will be awarded a scholarship of as much as $2,500.

PSAT Registration
Students can register for the PSAT through their high school, or a local high school in the community. The test is offered every October and costs $13.

Are you ready to take the PSAT and want to prepare to get a great score? Check out our PSAT Directory to find helpful study aids. If you'd like to learn more about the PSAT, take a look at our interview with Karl Schellscheidt, PSAT expert.

Sources: College Board & National Merit Scholarship Corporation