What Families Need to Know About the PSAT

Have you seen announcements about the upcoming PSAT/NMSQT test at your student’s high school? Wondering what you need to know?

What is the PSAT/NMSQT?

The PSAT/NMSQT is a standardized test administered by the College Board and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States. The top scores are used to award National Merit recognition and scholarships.

Many schools promote the PSAT as a pre-SAT exam. Families should be aware of the similarities and differences between the PSAT and the SAT:

  • The subjects are the same and the question style is similar.
  • Questions on the PSAT are less challenging.
  • Allotted time for the PSAT is longer than what is given during the SAT.

The PSAT is a fine practice tool for the SAT. However, be aware it is not a true indicator of how a student will perform on the SAT.

Testing Timeline

The primary group of students taking the PSAT are juniors. However, some schools allow sophomores and even freshmen to take the exam. Younger students who may be candidates for the merit scholarships may want to consider taking it before their junior year for practice. In addition, the PSAT results will be used by SAT partner Khan Academy to pinpoint your areas for practice.

Ohio high schools are required by law to offer one free ACT or SAT exam in the early spring of a student’s junior year. Some high schools talk about taking the ACT and SAT tests during a student’s senior year. Don’t let spring of junior year and early senior year be the first-time students are taking these tests.

We strongly recommend students have the standardized test score they want to submit to colleges by the summer between their junior and senior year. Having this piece of the puzzle done will take some of the pressure off the application process.

Does the PSAT/NMSQT test matter?

Juniors have plenty to worry about in their junior year. Don’t let this exam be one of those things.

While a really high score may earn a scholarship, the reality is the number of students receiving National Merit scholarships is incredibly small. Of the 1.6 million high school juniors who take the test, about 7,500 will be finalists and be awarded a National Merit scholarship of $2,500 a year.

A better source of merit aid is from the colleges themselves. In addition to merit aid colleges award for academics, some schools award money to National Merit finalists and semifinalists as well. But to be clear, you don’t need to be a National Merit finalist to receive merit scholarships from colleges. If you are a finalist or semifinalist, be sure to seek out those colleges that award extra for that status. (A sample of those colleges can be found here.)

If you want your student to “practice” for the SAT, have them take the SAT itself. A student can sit for the exam freshman or sophomore year (or even younger–7th/8th grade) and experience the real questions, the real time frames, the real atmosphere, and you can choose not to report those scores to any schools.

Want to know more about the ACT/SAT?

Always a hot topic with our families, we often discuss ideas for tackling these exams in our educational path programming. In addition, our ACT/SAT Information webpage has tons of helpful links and dates to help you plan for a successful college entrance exam experience for your student. Finally, those families looking for outside tutoring help can take a peek at our Friends of At The Core webpage.


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