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The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the PSAT/NMSQT Exam
- About the PSAT/NMSQT
- PSAT10 vs PSAT/NMSQT
- Transition to Digital Testing (Fall 2023)
- Exam Format and Scoring
- Sections of the PSAT/NMSQT Exam
- What to Expect on Test Day
- Best Ways to Study for the PSAT/NMSQT
- PSAT/NMSQT Tips and Tricks
- PSAT/NMSQT FAQ:
About the PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT is a standardized test that fulfills dual roles:
As a Practice SAT (PSAT): This test is an important preparatory step for students planning to take the SAT®, offering a preview of the SAT format and question types. It helps students gauge their readiness for the SAT and identify areas for improvement.
As the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT): This is the same test used by the National Merit Scholarship Program to determine eligibility for scholarships. It is a critical opportunity for students, especially those in the eleventh grade, to qualify for prestigious academic scholarships based on their test performance.
PSAT10 vs PSAT/NMSQT
While the PSAT10 and PSAT/NMSQT are similar in content and structure, they serve different purposes:
PSAT10: Specifically designed for 10th-grade students, the (PSAT10) is a version of the PSAT that helps students start preparing early for the SAT. However, it does not play a role in the National Merit Scholarship competition.
PSAT/NMSQT: Typically taken by students in the tenth and eleventh grades, this test not only serves as SAT preparation but also as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program for eleventh graders.
Transition to Digital Testing (Fall 2023)
Starting in the Fall of 2023, the PSAT/NMSQT will undergo a significant transition, moving from a paper-based format to a digital one. This change aims to modernize the test-taking experience and align it with evolving educational technologies. The digital format is expected to offer a more streamlined and user-friendly experience, potentially reducing test anxiety and administrative complexities.
Exam Format and Scoring
With the digital transition, the PSAT/NMSQT will maintain its core structure with a slightly shortened testing time, consisting of two main sections:
Reading and Writing: This segment includes 54 questions to be answered within 64 minutes. It tests comprehension and language skills through a variety of passages and associated questions. Compared to previous versions of the exam, the passages in this section will now be shorter.
Mathematics: This section contains 44 questions, requiring completion within 70 minutes. It covers a range of math topics and assesses problem-solving abilities. The option for an on-screen calculator was added with the October 2023 digital update.
The scoring system for the PSAT/NMSQT is unchanged and follows the SAT model, with scores ranging from 320 to 1520 for the total score. In addition to the overall score, students receive subscores for each section. These subscores are valuable for identifying specific areas where students might need additional focus or study, helping tailor their preparation for future tests, including the SAT.
Sections of the PSAT/NMSQT Exam
The digital PSAT/NMSQT Math section consists of 44 questions spread over two 22 questions modules with a 35-minute time limit for each. You will have an onscreen calculator available for all questions, which progress from easy to hard.
The Math section covers algebra, advanced math, problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry. It includes multiple-choice and student-produced responses, focusing on applying essential math concepts and skills.
About 30% of the questions are context-based, requiring application of math skills in scenarios related to science, social studies, or real life. Some questions also feature informational graphics.
The four content domains are:
Algebra: linear equations and inequalities
Advanced Math: nonlinear equations
Problem-Solving and Data Analysis: ratios, rates, data interpretation, and probability
Geometry and Trigonometry: area, volume, and trigonometric problems
Reading and Writing
The PSAT/NMSQT Reading and Writing section comprises 54 questions, split into two modules of 27 questions each. For each module, students have 32 minutes, which averages out to just over a minute for answering each question.
Questions are multiple choice and require students to read, analyze, and edit short passages that cover a variety of subjects from literature to science. The questions are designed to measure abilities in four categories:
Craft and Structure: These questions assess understanding and application of vocabulary, analysis of text structures, and connections among related topics.
Information and Ideas: This category tests the ability to discern and interpret key ideas and details, utilize evidence from texts and graphical data, and draw conclusions.
Standard English Conventions: Here, the focus is on editing texts to align with the standard rules of English grammar and punctuation.
Expression of Ideas: These questions involve revising texts to improve clarity and effectiveness in conveying ideas.
What to Expect on Test Day
For many students, the PSAT/NMSQT is their first standardized testing experience with scores that may be crucial to their post-secondary education, which makes it an incredibly important test. The exam is often taken at the school the student currently attends, and examinees will receive information about what to bring, time of arrival, and where on campus the test will be taken before their testing day.
The total exam time is 2 hours and 14 minutes, not including breaks. Students should plan to be at the testing site for a minimum of three hours to accommodate registration, check-in, time for instructions, and any breaks taken. Examinees should ensure that they get plenty of rest and eat a nutritious meal before arriving, which will ensure they do not get distracted by hunger or drowsiness and can maintain focus for the duration of the exam.
What to Bring
Examinees will need a valid school- or government-issued photo ID when checking in for the exam. If the student does not have either of these, they may obtain a notarized College Board Student ID Form. As of Fall of 2023 the PSAT/NMSQT is administered in digital format, and all examinees should bring a fully charged computer with the Bluebook App and ready to go for the exam.
Approved calculators are allowed during the test, including graphing calculators, scientific calculators, and four-function calculators, although a four-function calculator is not recommended due to the sophistication of the questions on the exam. You cannot share a calculator with any other examinee, so it’s crucial that you bring your own. As of Fall 2023, you will be provided an on-screen to use for the entirety of the math section as well.
What Not to Bring
Aside from an approved calculator, it’s best not to bring any other electronics with you on exam day. If you do bring a cell phone, you will have to turn it off and place it underneath your desk. Any noise made by a phone, even during breaks, can result in dismissal from the test, cancellation of the test scores, and possible confiscation and search of the phone. You should not bring any other writing utensils (highlighters, pens, mechanical pencils), mathematical aids (protractors, rulers, etc.), or ** scratch papers** of any kind.
Best Ways to Study for the PSAT/NMSQT
Take Practice Tests for the PSAT/NMSQT
Taking the PSAT/NMSQT can be incredibly nerve-racking for students who may not have a ton of experience with standardized tests. It can be especially challenging to focus under the time restrictions imposed by the exam. The best way to prepare in the weeks leading up to exam day is by taking lots of PSAT practice tests. These practice tests help students understand how to better pace themselves throughout the exam and get them comfortable with the types of questions they will encounter in all of the exam sections.
Use Alternative Study Methods
In addition to PSAT practice tests, many students find it helpful to incorporate alternative study materials, such as flashcards and study guides. These additional study aids can give students a more complete exam prep experience and ensure they review all topics that will be covered on exam day.
Simulate the Testing Experience
Another key strategy in preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT is simulating the testing experience, especially since this is a timed exam. Going through all of the sections and adhering to the time restrictions helps students to learn how to pace themselves and gives them an idea of how they will perform throughout the entire duration of the exam.
PSAT/NMSQT Tips and Tricks
Tackle the Easy Questions First
In the digital PSAT/NMSQT, students can skip questions and return to them later, but only within the same module. This feature allows for strategic time management and question selection. However, once a module is completed, students cannot revisit it. It’s important for test-takers to review and answer all skipped questions before moving on to the next section, ensuring they don’t miss any opportunities within each module.
If You Don’t Know the Answer, Guess
This exam is composed of all multiple-choice questions with no penalty for guessing. This means you won’t lose points by making a random guess and getting it wrong, and you could gain some points if you guess correctly.
Start Preparing Early
The PSAT/NMSQT is not a test where cramming for a couple of days prior will be sufficient to score well. It’s much better to follow a slow and steady pace and study over several weeks. This method will ensure you are much better prepared on exam day.
1. How much does it cost to take the PSAT/NMSQT?
Taking the PSAT/NMSQT costs $18. Some schools may have extra fees for administration, while others may cover test costs for the student. The examinee and their parents/guardians will receive information specific to their school before the exam.
2. What students are eligible to take the PSAT/NMSQT?
Most students take the PSAT/NMSQT in the eleventh grade, although it can also be taken in the tenth. Students in eighth or ninth grade can take the PSAT 8/9.
3. How long will it take to receive the scores for the PSAT/NMSQT?
Scores are generally available four to six weeks after the test administration date. The exam is administered in late October or early November, meaning that scores are usually available in December.
4. Can I retake the PSAT/NMSQT?
Most students will only take the PSAT/NMSQT once, although it can be taken up to three times during the student’s high school tenure. However, the student can only take it once per calendar year.