Everyone is familiar with the SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, high school students take in order to be accepted into most colleges and universities. While students all over the country stress about this high stakes testing, there is a way to get an idea of how you will perform on the exam and to see what it’s like to take it.

The College Readiness Board has created two tests, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT10, to give students an opportunity to practice for this exam while simultaneously competing for scholarships based on their performance. The PSAT10 assesses only tenth grade students in mid-February or March. Tenth and eleventh graders may sit for the PSAT/NMSQT in October or November.

The main difference between the two tests is that the National Merit Scholarship Program uses the scores of PSAT/NMSQT as criteria when selecting National Merit Scholarship Finalists. Taking this test, and doing well on it, can aid in a student’s search for college acceptance and financial assistance.

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Out of the millions of students taking the test each year, about 50,000 receive recognition from the Scholarship Committee. They are selected by state representation in order to give all students an equal chance. 34,000 are notified through their high schools that they obtained Commended recognition for their performance. While out of the running for a National Merit Scholarship, these students usually receive other offers and awards from schools and corporations.

The highest scoring 16,000 students become Semi-finalists. These are the top scoring testers in each state, and they receive materials to apply to become National Merit Finalists. From this group, a special committee chooses about 7,400 students based on a combination of scores, academic performance, extracurricular activities, and leadership skills to receive scholarships. All students are eligible to receive $2500 National Merit Scholarships no matter their financial situation or college plans.

Further, some companies designate scholarships to children of employees or for students with career plans they wish to sponsor. Finally, many colleges select from the Finalists that have chosen that particular school as a first choice and been accepted by the admissions board to give awards. Taking the test opens many doors for high school students. Each opportunity arises from taking, and doing well, on the PSAT.

PSAT Study Guide

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The full name of the PSAT test is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Every year, around three million high school juniors and seniors sit for this exam, which is taken at more than 22,000 high schools all over the country.

There are five sections on the exam, which takes two hours and 10 minutes to complete. There are two critical reading sections, with a total of 48 multiple-choice questions. Of these, 35 are reading comprehension questions, and 13 are sentence completions. There are two math sections, with a total of 38 questions. Of these, 28 are multiple choice; the other 10 require grid-in responses. There’s also a writing skills section, which contains 39 questions – 14 are about spotting sentence errors, 20 are about improving sentences, and five are about improving paragraphs.

Each subject is scored on a scale from 20 to 80 points, with 240 being a perfect score. While the PSAT serves as an excellent “practice run” for the SAT that many students will take a year or two later, it’s much more than that. It’s also one of the selection criteria used by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students who do well on the exam can earn scholarship money for college.

In fact, some colleges will offer full four-year scholarships to students who earn top scores on the exam. Don’t take the PSAT test too lightly, because your score can have important consequences for your academic future. Rely on the PSAT prep videos here on Mometrix Academy to help you do your very best on the exam.

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What’s on This Test?

So how do you go about obtaining the highest score possible? What’s on this test? Similar to the SAT, the PSAT assesses the skills that are learned in high school and are necessary to be successful in college or the work world. Reading, Writing, and Mathematics sections are all included in the exam. Fortunately, all sections focus on evaluating, analyzing, and processing information given in passages, so a lot of memorization is not required.

PSAT Reading

The Reading portion of the exam asks testers to read passages and then choose from the multiple-choice answer bank provided. Some questions demand information recall, but most require testers to use inference skills and context clues to determine the best answer choice. Though passage subject matter varies, examinees should know that there is always at least one classic or contemporary work of United States or World Literature. Informational text focusing on economics, psychology, sociology, and other social sciences is usually included, as well as a science passage that examines foundational concepts from Earth Science, biology, chemistry, or physics.

Also, a pair of passages from a United States founding document or global discussion presents the opportunity to use critical analysis skills. Basically, the Reading portion assesses the examinees ability to read and process fictional, historical, and scientific information using evidence to support ideas. Real documents are used, guaranteeing some familiarity with the passages, as well as assessing the ability to apply skills to all forms of writing. Practicing using inference and context clues gives test takers an advantage when preparing for the PSAT.

PSAT Writing

When approaching the Writing portion of the PSAT, students are asked to edit social studies, history, or science passages with a critical eye. This assesses the basic tools of writing such as vocabulary, analysis of information, expression of ideas, and standard grammar tools. Again, practicing the basic skills of writing gains testers an edge when taking the PSAT exam, prior knowledge is not tested. Instead, the exam focuses on everyday skills students need in order to be successful communicators in college or the workplace.

The test contains sentences or passages that need correction in some form or fashion. It could need editing for clarity of ideas, or it might need grammar corrections. Each question requires the reader to use evidence or context clues from the passage in order to single out the best answer choice. Answering many questions of this type helps to prepare for this portion of the test.


The Mathematics portion of the PSAT addresses the examinees’ ability to think strategically and demonstrates their grasp of mathematical procedures. It assesses the ability to analyze and apply mathematical skills to solve real-world problems and focuses on three basic areas of math that are used in most college majors and careers. First, it checks understanding of Algebra with questions about linear equations and systems. It also tests problem-solving and data analysis. Examinees are asked to process quantitative information and use it to solve typical life situations.

In addition, there are questions involving advanced maths such as geometry and trigonometry that are relevant to college and career readiness. All of these questions are divided into two parts: Mathematics-Calculator and Mathematics-No Calculator. The calculator portion presents the opportunity to show more complex reasoning skills. Students demonstrate the ability to use procedures and theorems to solve complicated equations. However, there will be some questions on the Calculator section that can be solved faster without the use of the machine. Taking time to analyze the structure of the problem before solving will save the examinee time when working through this part of the test.

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The No Calculator Portion

The No Calculator portion tests mathematical fluency and number sense. It focuses more on the ability to organize and use quantitative information in everyday situations. Answers fall into one of two categories, either multiple choice or grid-in answer choices. Multiple choice answers make up the majority of the exam, but 17% of the test has student-generated responses that are recorded in a grid box. When recording answers in a grid box, it is important to remember to fill in only one circle per column.

Answers recorded in boxes that do not have corresponding circles filled in will not be given credit. Where you put the digits within the grid box does not matter, as long as the number is in the box. Each grid can accommodate four decimal places and only positive numbers and zero. Mixed numbers must be converted to improper fractions and repeating decimals gridded to the most accurate answer. Unless otherwise stated, all answers will be recorded as decimals or fractions.

The biggest changes made to the PSAT exam have been to shift from memorization of obscure facts and vocabulary to the assessment of real-world, career and college- ready skills. The College Board desires to focus on skills that have been taught in high school and will be in use continually in post-secondary education or the workplace. This means that each portion of the test requires the examinee to put high school learning into practice and demonstrate the ability to use evidence and context to process data and information in order to solve problems from a wide variety of topics in both literature and mathematics.

Instead of committing a long list of vocabulary words to memory for the exam and then promptly forgetting them, the PSAT quizzes test-takers on the ability to determine the meaning of more universally used words through the use of evidence and context clues. Each portion has become more practical and assesses more universally needed skills.

Online PSAT Test Prep Course

If you want to be fully prepared, Mometrix offers an online PSAT Prep Course. The course is designed to provide you with any and every resource you might want while studying. The PSAT Course includes:

  • Review Lessons Covering All the Topics
  • 1400+ PSAT Practice Questions
  • More than 450 Electronic Flashcards
  • Over 200 Instructional Videos
  • Money-back Guarantee
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The PSAT Test Prep Course is designed to help any learner get everything they need to prepare for their PSAT exam; click below to check it out.

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How to Prepare for the PSAT Test

So how does a student prepare if memorization is not the key? How does one go about getting the best score they can get? Good PSAT test practice combines test-taking skills with lessons on how to process and analyze information. Most students possess background knowledge of the content of the test, but don’t have the ability to apply that knowledge to solve problems. The College Board seeks to determine the college and career readiness of students, helping schools and corporations to project the success of those students in their environments. This information is also used to determine those students who would best use scholarship awards to their utmost potential.

Mometrix provides test-taking strategies and practice to hone academic skills in order to assist examinees in obtaining the highest score possible. Tips on breaking down questions into understandable parts aids examinees in moving through the test without struggling with time limits. Mometrix removes time-wasting activities and puts an emphasis on reviewing the important basic skills most evaluated on the test. Students can practice predicting correct answers by deconstructing the question and looking for ‘hints’ within the answer choices. Many times readers can eliminate incorrect answer choices through the use of testing strategies.

The practice test materials provided through Mometrix gives students the benefit of seeing the test format and becoming familiar with the test material. It addresses each portion of the test, giving secrets and tips on using information and skills most efficiently. Students are trained in the best methods of attacking the test to ensure the best use of their time during the test. The advantages this preparation gives test-takers the ability to achieve the best possible score, increasing their chances of being awarded scholarships to pursue higher education.

The number of questions answered correctly gives the raw score of the exam. Incorrect answers don’t count against you, so guessing on difficult questions is better than skipping them entirely. The College Board converts these raw numbers to scale scores between 160 and 760. Using a procedure called equating, the College Board levels the playing field, ensuring that tests are scored equally regardless of the day the test is taken. This allows test questions to vary without giving certain test versions an advantage over others. Score reports include average tests scores in the United States, as well as percentile ranks that allow examinees to compare their score to those of the average tenth or eleventh grade student.

Each section of the test has a benchmark score that demonstrates college readiness. If you reach those benchmark scores, it shows that you are on track to succeed in post-secondary education. Lower scores show more work is needed, but help to pinpoint areas of weakness so that students know what to focus on as they prepare to retest. Students are able to take the test more than once, so each time they sit for the exam gives them more tools to help them prepare for the next session.

Using Mometrix’s PSAT Exam Secrets gives students the best score for the least amount of time spent studying. It streamlines the preparation process and gives students the tools needed to perform well on the exam. Within the preparation materials, students receive comprehensive reviews, as well as training in the use of the 5 critical skills required to achieve high score on the exam. The PSAT test is not so much remembering what you’ve learned in high school as it is putting into practice the methods you used to learn it. Practice testing strategies, reading comprehension skills, and mathematical procedures so that when faced with the test, you are able to easily approach each portion with confidence.

Mometrix PSAT Exam Secrets gives examinees the security of knowing they have the best preparation, focusing on the most important skills of literature and mathematical comprehension. This assurance allows you to meet the challenge of the PSAT without fear, giving you the capacity to work through each portion with calm confidence in your test-taking ability.

PSAT Study Guide

Mometrix Academy is a completely free resource provided by Mometrix Test Preparation. If you find benefit from our efforts here, check out our premium quality PSAT study guide to take your studying to the next level. Just click the PSAT study guide link below. Your purchase also helps us make even more great, free content for test-takers.

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PSAT Study Guide Customer Success Stories

Our customers love the tutorial videos from Mometrix Academy that we have incorporated into our PSAT test study guide. The PSAT study guide reviews below are examples of customer experiences.

I love that I have a printed book with support material and more context, but my daughter has processing issues so going over all this information can be challenging. That said, I LOVE the video clips you can use to summarize and explain the concept to review. She may not get out of this book what one could, but she will get much more review than I could ever dream of with these little video clips. Great set up.

PSAT Study Guide – Sandy

This review was very thorough and my daughter thought it was comprehensive. She liked the practice test and test taking strategies. She had to take the PSAT to get into a SAT prep course at school, that actually uses this program also.

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Not only does it explain the test, but it breaks down each section by topic, number of questions and subtopics. You provide concise reviews with examples and I love the video tutorials! You guys have pretty much covered everything we need to know about the PSAT test, so there's no guessing. I've purchased other study guides, but I absolutely love this one the best. Thank you Mometrix!

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PSAT Study Guide – Customer

This study guide helped with my test-taking skills. The practice tests are a great plus!

PSAT Study Guide – Anissa

*PSAT/NMSQT is a registered trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, Mometrix Academy.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: October 17, 2022