What is the PSAT?

Confused about the PSAT? We’ve got some answers to common questions and info on why your teen should take this particular “practice” test seriously. 

Uneven row of black pencils with one yellow pencil in middle rising taller than the rest. On white with drop shadow

Confused about the PSAT? We’ve got some answers to common questions and info on why your teen should take this particular “practice” test seriously. 

 The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). But unlike most “pre-tests” that serve as practice material to prepare students for the real exam, the PSAT is much more. Students who score high enough on the PSAT are entered in a competition for a scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Program. This program awards one-time scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 as well as scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000 per year. 

  • How is it different from SAT & ACT?

The PSAT can only be taken once per school year. Students who are sophomores or younger are allowed to take the test, but to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, students must take this test as a junior. 

  • How is it administered?

Unlike other standardized exams, registration for the PSAT is done at your teen’s high school, and the test is taken every October during regular school hours at participating high schools. 

  • What if my child is homeschooled?

You may contact a nearby school offering the PSAT/NMSQT and request to take the test there. There is no online registration process. Registration must be done at a participating high school. 

  • How much money does it cost? 

The test is offered at a fraction of the cost of other standardized tests. There is a $15 fee per student tested. In some cases, schools may charge an additional fee to cover administrative costs. The College Board offers fee waivers to juniors who come from a low-income family and demonstrate financial need. These waivers are given out to juniors through the request of school administrators and are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. 

  • So, what’s on the test? 

The PSAT is broken into five sections: two Critical Reading, two Math and one Writing section. The Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT offers reviews to aid in preparation and can be picked up from your teen’s guidance office in September. Practice tests are also available online. 

  • How are the scores used? 

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation receives all the scores. Each section of the test is scored between 20-80 with an overall score ranging from 60 to 240. The selection for the scholarship is based on how well the students do in comparison to peers in their region. Each state has a specific PSAT Selection Index, which is used in part to qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship. 


As an editor, copywriter, and social media manager at exploreMedia, I work to develop content that is relevant and interesting to our readers and coordinate with contributing writers.

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