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The Definitive Practice Test Guide for the PSAT/NMSQT Exam

About the PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT10) and the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT) are the same test and are taken for two purposes. The PSAT10 can help students practice for the SAT® exam. The scores from the SAT are used for college admissions and for some scholarship programs, resulting in many students striving to do very well and start preparing as early as possible with the PSAT10. The National Merit Scholarship Committee uses scores from the NMSQT when awarding scholarships to students. This exam is generally taken by students in the tenth and eleventh grades.

An overview of the content areas and time allotted for each section on the PSAT/NMSQT is as follows:

  • Reading: 47 questions to be completed in 60 minutes

  • Writing and Language: 44 questions to be completed in 35 minutes

  • Mathematics: 48 questions to be completed in 70 minutes

Scores are reported on a similar scale as the SAT, with a range of 320-1520 for the total score. Subscores vary for the exam sections, but are provided to students, parents, and educators to help students identify areas that could benefit from additional studying.

Sections of the PSAT/NMSQT Exam

Math: Calculator

The Math section of the PSAT/NMSQT exam is administered in two portions, including this one that permits the use of an approved calculator.

There are 31 questions and you will have 45 minutes to complete them. These questions emphasize your ability to reason about math concepts and situations, while utilizing little to no calculation.

Of the 48 total math questions, eight of them will require you to grid in your answer. If you are not familiar with this procedure, review it on this page of the official College Board website.

Math: No Calculator

The 17 “No Calculator” questions must be completed in 25 minutes. This portion is a test of your basic “math sense” and ability to manipulate figures accurately, so you may not use a calculator.

A total of eight of the questions in both math sections require the use of a grid to fill in your answer. Please see this page of the official College Board website for more information about this important procedure.


All of the questions in this section are multiple-choice. They ask you to reflect on a given passage, and some of the passages are paired with some sort of chart or graph. You will not need to call upon any specific subject knowledge, but you will have to read, understand, and evaluate written material. When finding the correct answer, it will be necessary to find evidence in the passage to support your thoughts.

Writing and Language

Your job in this section of the PSAT/NMSQT exam will be to find the best correction for parts of a written passage. It will be an evaluation of how well you can edit written work. As in the Reading section, there will be tables and graphs attached to some of the passages. There may be several answers that would improve the passage, but you will need to choose the one that is best.

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 165 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. The PSAT/NMSQT is still administered in paper format, and all examinees should bring two No. 2 pencils with erasers. 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. Here is a full list of approved calculators. You cannot share a calculator with any other examinee, so it’s crucial that you bring your own. You also cannot use a calculator that is embedded in a smart device, tablet, or phone.

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.), papers of any kind, or any food or drink.

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 practice tests for the PSAT/NMSQT. 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 practice tests, many students find it helpful to incorporate alternative study materials, such as flashcards for the PSAT/NMSQT and study guides for the PSAT/NMSQT. 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

The PSAT/NMSQT is administered in a paper-and-pencil format, meaning that you can move throughout the questions in each section freely. It’s a good idea to read through all of them and answer the ones you know first. Then, you can go back and spend extra time on the ones that may take a bit longer.

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 $15. 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 October, 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.

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