PSAT Study Guide

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What is the

Many people know the SAT, but high school students should also become acquainted with the PSAT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Students take three variants of the PSAT at various periods throughout the year, namely the PSAT 8/9, PSAT/NMSQT, and PSAT 10. Of these, the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are practically the same examinations. Students in the eighth and ninth grades would take the PSAT 8/9, while sophomores would take the PSAT 10. The National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, also known as the PSAT/NMSQT, is taken by students in their sophomore or junior year. A junior who achieves the required PSAT/NMSQT scores may be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship, which can mean financial aid for college.


PSAT Registration

Juniors and sophomores have the option to take the PSAT each autumn. In contrast to the SAT, registered online through the College Board, PSAT applicants register for the test through their high school.

The PSAT registration process can vary depending on the school. However, in general, there are two steps to the process:

  • (a) after notifying students of the PSAT registration deadline, schools instruct students on how to sign up and make payment for the exam.
  • (b) each school has its own PSAT registration process. As a result, although some institutions may insist that applicants register and pay for the exam in person, others may ask applicants to register online through a website. (The College Board will never let students register for the PSAT.)

PSAT Fees &
Fee Waiver

Each student must pay $18 for the PSAT, but some institutions may waive this expense entirely. On the other hand, some institutions may charge more than $18 to cover the cost of proctors and test administrators. In either case, the school should inform the student of the PSAT fee and the appropriate payment procedures. Most institutions only accept cash or checks; however, each has its own policies on accepted payment methods. Most checks will be payable to the school (never to the College Board).

Finally, students might be eligible for a PSAT fee waiver if they are low-income juniors. To request a fee waiver, schools—not students—must contact the College Board. It is advisable to speak with one’s counselor to verify one’s eligibility and address any queries or concerns concerning PSAT enrollment or payment.

PSAT Structure

The reading, writing & language, and math tests are the three components of the 2-hour, 45-minute PSAT/NMSQT. Although some arithmetic problems require students to type in the answer rather than pick it, most questions are multiple-choice.

Test Sections and Distribution of Marks:

TestQuestionsLength (minutes)
Writing and Language4435

PSAT Sections

I. Reading

The Reading Test consists of five reading passages followed by multiple-choice questions. There are 47 questions on this test, and students have 60 minutes to finish.

Four independent passages and one pair of passages that students read together make up the five passages on the reading test. Each of the individual passages and the paired set contains 500 to 750 words. The quotations come from the following categories of documents:

  • 1 literary passage taken from a fictional work: 1 to 2 sentences from a founding document of the United States or a piece from the Great Global Conversation they sparked. A founding document would be something like the United States Constitution. The term “The Great Global Conversation” describes literary works from all over the world that address issues like justice, freedom, or human decency. Nelson Mandela’s remarks would serve as an illustration.
  • 1 paragraph from sociology, psychology, economics, or other social science books.
  • 2 passages from scientific publications that examine key ideas and discoveries in physics, biology, chemistry, or Earth science.
II. Writing & Language

The Writing and Language Test consists of multiple-choice questions requiring the student to read passages, identify flaws, and correct them. This 35-minute section of the PSAT/NMSQT consists of 44 multiple-choice questions as well as 4 texts.

Each of the four paragraphs on the exam contains 400 to 450 words. The passages’ degree of difficulty varies; some are harder to understand than others. Numerous subjects are covered in the sections, such as vocations, science, the humanities, history, and social studies.

Each passage has a different objective and structure:

  • At least 1 of them is a narrative, which tells the story of occurrences. Although it is not a work of fiction, this piece could be a nonfiction account of a historical incident or a description of the course of an experiment.
  • The remaining sentences are either instructive and explanatory or argumentative, trying to convince or persuade the reader of anything.
  • Students must comprehend certain chapters’ charts, graphs, and infographics in conjunction with their written portions.
III. Math

The Math Test concentrates on mathematical topics critical to a variety of college degrees and careers.

  • Heart of Algebra emphasizes mastering linear systems and equations.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis involve drawing knowledge from data and problem-solving.
  • Passport to Advanced Math includes inquiries requiring students to work with sophisticated equations.
  • Two questions from Additional Topics in Math, which cover geometry and trigonometry, most important for preparing for college and the workplace, are also included on the math test.

PSAT Length &

The PSAT 8/9 test lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes, while the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT last for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

According to the College Board website, the PSAT 8/9 test is divided into 55 minutes for reading, 30 minutes for writing & language, and 60 minutes for math. There are 42 questions or activities for reading, 40 for writing & language, and 38 for math across those sections. 60 minutes are allocated for reading, 35 for writing & language, and 70 for math on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT. These exam takers will encounter 48 arithmetic questions, 44 writing & language questions, and 47 reading questions or tasks.

PSAT Scores

PSAT scores are determined by how well test takers perform in the two portions of arithmetic and evidence-based reading and writing.

Although similar, the PSAT’s score ranges vary between editions. The PSAT 8/9 score range is between 240 and 1,440. The PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT have a slightly higher range of 320 to1,520. The results from the reading, writing, and math sections are added to each of the three tests to determine the final score.

Why should I take
the PSAT?

There are two ways for students to evaluate the PSAT’s worth. The first is a route to one of the scholarships, and the second is test preparation for the SAT, frequently utilized as a prerequisite for college admissions. One approach to preparing for the SAT is to take the PSAT as a practice test. Due to the similarities between the PSAT and SAT, taking the PSAT might be a helpful exercise for SAT preparation. Although the SAT is longer and harder, it essentially tests the same material.

What is a Good
PSAT Score?

PSAT scores are determined by how well test takers perform in the two portions of arithmetic and evidence-based reading and writing. The scores can highlight a student’s strengths and weaknesses and alert them to any weaknesses they should work on before the SAT. However, because it changes, determining the precise score required to receive a National Merit Scholarship is challenging. There is no constant score from year to year.

The 50,000 students who are eligible for the scholarship, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corp. website, are chosen using a selection index that is “determined by multiplying the total of the Reading, Writing, and Language, and Math Test Scores.” These candidates are ultimately reduced to National Merit Scholars and other recipients of unique scholarships.

Preparing for
the PSAT

It is advised to use the same test preparation materials for all PSAT tests due to the similarities between the PSAT and the SAT. The number of questions in each section and the time allotted for each question must be considered while developing pacing strategies for the PS

As they prepare for the PSAT and, subsequently, the SAT, students are urged to devote time to pinpointing their areas of weakness and honing them. To finish practice exams on time, identify patterns of the questions students missed on practice tests, and fill in any knowledge gaps in those areas, students need to pay particular attention to another crucial factor called “pacing.”

Preparing for the PSAT
Reading Test

A student’s comprehension and logical thinking will be tested on the PSAT Reading Test as they read through difficult, lengthy prose passages from a range of subject areas.

The test will include passages from American and international literature, history/social studies, and science. There will be one pair of history/social studies or science passages. Data visualizations like graphs, tables, and charts may also supplement science, history, and social studies sections.

Four core skills are tested in the reading section, they are:

  • Information and Ideas
  • Summarizing
  • Rhetoric
  • Synthesis

Below is a passage and a few sample questions about the passage. Following each text or set of passages is a list of questions. Choose the best response to each question after reading each passage or pair, taking into account what is said or implied therein, as well as any accompanying graphics.

Excerpt of the passage:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of Line 5 existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had 10 died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection. 15 Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse’s family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them, it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold 20 the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma 25 doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment but directed chiefly by her own.

Sample Question 1

The main purpose of the passage is to

  • A) describe the main character and a significant change in her life. 
  • B) provide an overview of a family and a nearby neighbor. 
  • C) discuss some regrettable personality flaws in the main character. 
  • D) explain the relationship between the main character and her father
Sample Question 2

Which choice best summarizes the first two paragraphs of the passage (lines 1-14)?

  • A) Even though a character loses a parent at an early age, she is happily raised in a loving home. 
  • B) An affectionate governess helps a character to overcome the loss of her mother, despite the indifference of her father. 
  • C) Largely as a result of her father’s wealth and affection, a character leads a contented life. D) A character has a generally comfortable and fulfilling life,but then she must recover from losing her mother.
Sample Question 3

 The narrator indicates that the particular nature of Emma’s upbringing resulted in her being

  • A) despondent. 
  • B) self-satisfied. 
  • C) friendless. 
  • D) inconsiderate.
Sample Question 4

Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

  • A) Lines 1-5 (“Emma… her”) 
  • B) Lines 9-14 (“Her… affection”) 
  • C) Lines 28-32 (“The real… enjoyments”) 
  • D) Lines 32-34 (“The danger… her”)
Sample Question 5

As used in line 26, “directed” most nearly means

  • A) trained. 
  • B) aimed. 
  • C) guided. 
  • D) addressed.

Answers: 1. C, 2. D, 3. C, 4. D, 5. C

Preparing for the PSAT Writing
and Language Test

Four single passages, one from the following subject areas: Careers, Humanities, History/Social Studies, and Science, will be included on the PSAT Writing & Language Test. Additionally, passages will differ in “type” of text. A passage might be a nonfiction story, an argument, or an educational or illuminating text.

Choosing the best of three options for a highlighted passage or deciding that the present version is the best choice is the most common question structure on the PSAT Writing & Language Test. Students must make edits to the paragraphs’ development, structure, and diction to verify that they adhere to accepted usage, grammar, and style guidelines for English. Development, organization, and effective language use sentence structure, conventions of usage, and conventions of punctuation are some skills tested in this section.

Below is an excerpt of a passage. Read the passage carefully and choose the option that best describes the answer to the portion of the phrase. You can choose a no-change option as well.

A Nod to Nodding Off With 30 percent of United States workers not getting enough sleep at night, according to the Wall Street Journal, US companies 1 lose a yearly sum of $63.2 billion annually due to the drop in employee productivity resulting from sleep deprivation. Sleep-deprived workers generally have lower morale and are less able to retain information than their better-rested colleagues.

[1] One of the 2 big reasons behind workers’ lack of sleep is the work itself. [2] To combat the problem of sleep deprivation in a demanding work environment, some companies have begun allowing workers to take naps. [3] The hours the average American 3 spend working has increased dramatically since the 1970s, making it hard for many workers to get a good night’s sleep. [4] Although employees who sleep on the job are often considered lazy and unproductive, napping in the workplace has been shown to improve workers’ efficiency and quality of life. [5] As long as companies continue to demand long hours from 4 workers, managers should champion napping as a means to keep employees happy, healthy, and functional. 5

Sample Question 1


  • B) see an annual loss of $63.2 billion each year 
  • C) lose $63.2 billion annually 
  • D) have a yearly loss of $63.2 billion annually
Sample Question 2


  • B) main things leading up to 
  • C) huge things about 
  • D) primary causes of
Sample Question 3


  • B) have spent 
  • C) spends 
  • D) are spent
Sample Question 4

4 ___________________

  • B) workers; managers 
  • C) workers, managers, 
  • D) workers, managers
Sample Question 5


To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 3 should be placed

  • A) where it is now. 
  • B) before sentence 1. 
  • C) after sentence 1. 
  • D) after sentence 4.

Answers: 1. C, 2. D, 3. C, 4. D, 5. C

Preparing for the PSAT Math
(No Calculator) Test

Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math are the four curriculum areas that make up the PSAT Math Test.

The math exam measures the student’s skills on:

  1. Ability to analyze and solve equations and systems of equations quickly.
  2. Employing ratios, proportions, percentages, and units to construct and analyze relationships; defining relationships displayed graphically and summarizing qualitative and quantitative data.
  3. Utilizing the structure of expressions to rewrite them; formulating, deciphering, and quickly resolving quadratic and higher order equations.
  4. Context-based area and volume computations; theorem-based investigations of lines, angles, triangles, and circles.

Below are some sample questions students can expect:

Sample Question 1

A babysitter earns $8 an hour for babysitting 2 children and an additional $3 tip when both children are put to bed on time. If the babysitter gets the children to bed on time, what expression could be used to determine how much the babysitter earned?

  • A) 8 +x, 3 where x is the number of hours 
  • B) 3 + 8 x, where x is the number of hours 
  • C) x (8 + 2) + 3, where x is the number of children 
  • D) 3 + (8 + 2) x, where x is the number of children
Sample Question 2

To cut a lawn, Allan charges a fee of $15 for his equipment and $8.50 per hour spent cutting a lawn. Taylor charges a fee of $12 for his equipment and $9.25 per hour spent cutting a lawn. If x represents the number of hours spent cutting a lawn, what are all the values of x for which Taylor’s total charge is greater than Allan’s total charge?

  • A) x > 4 
  • B) 3≤ x ≤ 4 
  • C) 4≤ x ≤ 5 
  • D) x < 3
Sample Question 3

If f x(− 1) = 2x + 3 for all values of x, what is the value of f(−3) ?

  • A) −7 
  • B) −5 
  • C) −3 
  • D) −1
Sample Question 4

P (x) = 3 (x² + 10 x + 5) – 5 (x – k)

In the polynomial p (x) defined above, k is a constant. If p (x) is divisible by x, what is the value of k?

  • A) −3 
  • B) −2 
  • C) 0
  • D) 3
Sample Question 5

In the XY-plane, if the parabola with equation y = ax² + b x + c, where a, b, and c are constants, passes through the point (−1, 1), which of the following must be true?

  • A) a – b =1
  • B) – b + c = 1
  • C) a + b + c = 1
  • D) a – b + c = 1

Answers: 1. A, 2. A, 3. D, 4. A, 5. D

Preparing for the PSAT Math
(with Calculator) Test

Read, visualize, and analyze the data carefully and then answer the questions below:

Sample Question 1

The line graph above shows the monthly rainfall from March to October last year in Chestnut City. According to the graph, what was the greatest change (in absolute value) in the monthly rainfall between two consecutive months? C

  • A) 1.5 inches 
  • B) 2.0 inches 
  • C) 2.5 inches 
  • D) 3.5 inches
Sample Question 2

 Boyd grows only tomatoes and raspberries in his garden. Last year, he grew 140 pounds of tomatoes and 60 pounds of raspberries. This year, the production, by weight, of tomatoes declined by 20 percent, and the production, by weight, of raspberries declined by 50 percent. By what percentage did the total yield, by weight, of Boyd’s garden decline? 

  • A) 29 percent 
  • B) 30 percent 
  • C) 35 percent 
  • D) 70 percent
Sample Question 3

Which ordered pair (, x y) satisfies the system of equations shown below?

2x -y = 6

x + 2y = −2

  • A) (−6, 2) 
  • B) (−2, 2) 
  • C) (2, −2) 
  • D) (4, 2)
Sample Question 4

A car traveled at an average speed of 80 miles per hour for 3 hours and consumed fuel at a rate of 34 miles per gallon. Approximately how many gallons of fuel did the car used for the entire 3-hour trip?

  • A) 2 
  • B) 3 
  • C) 6 
  • D) 7
Sample Question 5

The histogram above shows the distribution of the heights, in meters, of 26 pyramids in Egypt. Which of the following could be the median height of the 26 pyramids represented in the histogram?

  • A) 44 meters 
  • B) 48 meters 
  • C) 63 meters 
  • D) 77 meters

Answers: 1. C, 2. A, 3. C, 4. D, 5. B

FAQs on the

What are the National Merit Scholarship Program’s eligibility requirements?

For high schoolers (regular and homeschooled) who want to go to college, the National Merit Scholarship Program is an annual competition. To qualify for scholarships and honors through the program, students must take the PSAT/NMSQT, often in their junior year. Students who take the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10 are not eligible for the program.

How many times can the PSAT be taken?

What is a good PSAT score?

What is a commanded scholar?

What scores are needed to become a commended scholar?

Is it advised to cancel my scores?

What if a student misses the PSAT?


Several educational enterprises, including Magoosh, Applerouth, and Princeton Review, help students prepare for the PSAT, SAT, and other examinations with paid assistance. Many test preparation professionals recommend other free options, like Khan Academy, as a helpful exam resource. It is highlighted with the use of approved materials that may be found on the CollegeBoard website or via the associated Khan Academy.

Since PSAT is more like a preparatory course for students appearing for the SAT, all SAT guides and resources are good preparation guides for PSAT. For further exploration, please refer to our SAT guide here.