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A Look at the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)

Chase Gabrielson

Let’s take a look at the different PSATs available and who should take them and when. Each year, the College Board administers four separate tests: SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9. As the names suggest, the PSAT 8/9 is intended for 8th and 9th graders, and the PSAT 10 is intended for high school freshmen and sophomores, while the PSAT/NMSQT is intended for high school juniors. Each test is a bit longer and covers slightly more material than the one before it. All are considered practice tests for the official SAT, which is taken during junior and senior years. All have the same format and types of questions as the SAT, with the exception of the essay section, which is omitted from the PSATs. 


Why take the PSAT (or multiple PSATs)? PSAT scores do not count towards college admissions, but they can be a handy indicator of where students need to improve in order to maximize their scores on the SAT. Taking multiple tests helps students become familiar with the test format and types of questions they will encounter on the SAT.

The PSAT/NMSQT is administered by the College Board and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. It is the top-level practice test for taking the SATs, but it’s also more than that. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation recognizes the highest scoring students as National Merit Scholars and awards National Merit Scholarships based on the PSAT/NMSQT results. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation annually awards $180 million in merit scholarships to qualifying students. Only PSAT/NMSQT taken during the junior year will qualify for the scholarship competition.

A Look at the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)

In addition, the PSAT offers students the opportunity to enroll in the Student Search Service. This opt-in service allows students to get information about more than 1,900 colleges and scholarship programs. At the very least, this is how students start getting emails and letters from colleges. At the very best (if the schools are very interested in a student), these pieces of communication can include application fee waivers, priority application consideration, and scholarship invitations.


The PSAT/NMSQT is taken each October by over three million college-bound high school sophomores and juniors. This year, the primary test day is Wednesday, October 16, with the Saturday test day on October 19, 2019, and an alternate test day on Wednesday, October 30.

PSATs are usually administered during the school day, and take about 3 hours, including break time. Students will receive a composite score, two section scores, and a variety of subsection scores. 


As practice tests for the SAT, the format of all the PSATs is the same as the SAT, but without an essay. The PSAT/NMSQT includes three timed sections: 

  • The Reading section is 60 minutes and has 47 questions. Students will be asked to read several selections from history/social studies, science ((biology, chemistry, and physics), and the social sciences, then answer questions based on the readings.

  • The Writing section is 35 minutes long and has 44 multiple-choice questions.

  • The Math section is 70 minutes long and has 48 multiple-choice questions.

We hope this has been helpful as you decide which test or tests you should take. Whatever your choice, Star Tutors is ready to assist you with your test preparation, contact us today.