• What is the PSAT and NMSQT
  • What is on the PSAT?
  • Do I need to take the PSAT?
  • When should I take the PSAT?
  • Do I need to write an essay on the PSAT?



What is the PSAT/ NMSQT?

PSAT/NMSQT stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It is a co-sponsored program by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

It is a standardized test that provides practice for the SAT. It also gives you a chance to enter National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship programs.

The PSAT/NMSQT measures:

  • critical reading skills
  • math problem-solving skills
  • writing skills



What is on the PSAT?

The PSAT/NMSQT has five sections: Two critical reading sections, two math sections and one writing skills section

The whole test requires two hours and 10 minutes.

Critical Reading Section

Two 25-minute critical reading sections with a total of 48 questions

  • 13 Sentence completions
  • 35 Critical reading questions

Math Section

Two 25-minute math sections with a total of 38 questions

  • 28 multiple-choice math questions
  • 10 Student-produced responses or grid-ins

You will be tested in these 4 categories:

  • Numbers and Operation
  • Algebra and Functions (but not 3rd year level math that may appear on the new SAT)
  • Geometry and Measurement
  • Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability

You are allowed to use a calculator.

Writing Skills Section

One 30-minute writing section with a total of 39 questions

  • 14 Identifying sentence errors
  • 20 Improving sentences
  • 5 Improving paragraph questions

These multiple-choice questions will test your ability to express ideas effectively in standard-written English, to recognize faults in usage and structure, and to use language with sensitivity to meaning. (Note that essay writing is not included)



Do I need to take the PSAT/ NMSQT?

The PSAT/NMSQT can help you in the following ways:

  • To find out your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college study. You can then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
  • To see how your performance on an admissions test might compare with that of others applying to college.
  • To enter the competition for scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (grade 11).
  • To help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.
  • To receive information from colleges by using the Student Search Service.



When Should I Take The PSAT/ NMSQT?

This test is given by high schools in October. Your school counselor can help you sign up for the test. Many students take the test during their sophomore and junior years, but only test scores from their junior year are used for scholarship competitions. Ask your school counselor for a copy of the PSAT/NMSQT Student Bulletin, which includes a complete practice test.


Do I need to write an essay in the PSAT?

No. Unlike the SAT, the PSAT does not have an essay writing section.

However, if you happen to be semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship then you would need to write an essay (among other things) to qualify as a finalist.

Extracted from
"How does a Semifinalist become a Finalist?
Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements, which are provided in materials they receive with their scholarship application and are also listed in the PSAT/NMSQT ® Official Student Guide. These include completing an application, having a consistently very high academic record, writing an essay, being endorsed and recommended by a school official, and taking the SAT ® and earning a score that confirms the PSAT/NMSQT performance."




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