What you need to know about the PSAT/NMSQT exam

Student taking the PSAT/NMSQT® exam.

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT10) exam and the PSAT/NMSQT exam are two forms of the same test. The PSAT10 exam serves as a practice test for the SAT exam, which is used by colleges for admission purposes. Some scholarship programs also use the SAT exam to identify candidates, but not for National Merit Scholarship qualification. The PSAT/NMSQT exam is used by the National Merit Scholarship Committee in awarding scholarships.

The PSAT10 exam and PSAT/NMSQT exam each have three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. You do not have to know facts from your years of study, but you need to analyze and reason about information given on the test that is related to your knowledge.

Scores for the total test range from 320 to 1520. There is no penalty for choosing an incorrect answer, or “guessing.”

You can find out more about the PSAT/NMSQT exam in the Student Guide on the official College Board website here.

What are the costs?

The basic cost of the PSAT/NMSQT exam is $15. Some schools may charge an extra fee to cover their administration costs. Other schools cover the entire cost for all eligible students. School counselors can provide information about fees and fee waivers.

What should I bring?

Participants should bring:
* two No. 2 pencils, with erasers (no mechanical pencils)
* an approved calculator (For a list of approved instruments, look at page 32 of this booklet. * optional: Social Security Number, student number, and email address
* current valid school or government-issued photo ID (only if student is taking the test at a school other than his/her school of attendance or if the student is home-schooled)

Do not bring:
* compass, protractor, ruler
* any books, including dictionaries
* any papers or other writing instruments
* any other electronic devices
* food or beverages

Note: All cell phones must be turned off and placed beneath the desk. Noise made by a phone (or use of it, even during breaks) will cause the participant to be dismissed from the testing session, testing of that person canceled, and possible confiscation and content search of the phone.

What kind of job can I get?

Today, an increasing number of jobs require postsecondary (beyond high school) education to secure even an entry-level position. Most colleges require either the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) exam or the ACT (American College Test) exam scores as part of your application. The PSAT/NMSQT exam gives you important preliminary experience with these types of tests. Scores from this test can also aid in obtaining money to fund your education.

Am I eligible?

You must be a current 10th or 11th grade student, or home-schooled student studying at this grade level, to take the PSAT/NMSQT exam. School counselors will know registration deadlines.

Why does it matter?

Attending some sort of post-high school institution is rapidly becoming a necessity nowadays. College attendance can expand your future job opportunities exponentially and part of college acceptance will depend on your scores on a standardized test. The PSAT/NMSQT exam can prepare you to study for, and take, such tests as the SAT exam and ACT test. You will become familiar with test-taking procedures and strategies and learn your current strengths and weaknesses. As a result, you will be better prepared for tests that will impact your future educational opportunities. With your automatic entry into the National Merit Scholarship process through the PSAT/NMSQT exam, you will also begin to access the means to pay for your education.

What salary can I expect?

While going to college is no guarantee of a high-paying job in your future, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has established that the median yearly income for those with a Bachelor’s degree is 63% higher than those with only a high school diploma. So, attending college is a proactive way to protect your financial future and the PSAT/NMSQT exam is an important first step in the college admissions process.

When is it available?

The PSAT10 exam is given only once each year, in October. Participants must register by late August and the test is only available to current 10th grade high school students. Registration is done through the student’s school counselor and the test is administered at school on a date in late February or early March that is chosen by the school. If your school does not offer it, you can arrange to take the PSAT10 exam at another school.

The PSAT/NMSQT exam may be taken by 11th and 10th graders at school on one of two yearly specified dates, which are in late October and early November. Students register through their school counselors.

Tips & Tricks

The following practices can help you make the best possible and accurate score on the PSAT/NMSQT exam.

Take advantage of appropriately challenging courses in school and read at every opportunity. Both of these will ensure you are getting maximum exposure to the skills you will need as you further your education and the background needed to score well on necessary standardized tests.

On the day of the test, be sure to:

  • Read all questions and answer choices carefully.

  • Skip harder questions and come back to them. Move quickly through the types of questions that do not require a lot of thought.

  • Make an effort to find a suitable answer for every question, especially if you can narrow it down to two choices. There is no penalty for guessing.

  • Make sure you are in the right place on the answer sheet and check for this, periodically.

  • Be familiar with the process of gridding in answers for the Math section.

Time Allowed

The actual length of the PSAT/NMSQT exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes. There will also be time required to fill out personal information forms and to sign a document that certifies your adherence to a list of PSAT/NMSQT exam testing regulations. There is a list of testing regulations that you must sign before taking this test.

Practice using our expertly crafted questions!