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The Preliminary SAT (PSAT), also known as the National Merit Qualifying Scholarship Test (NMSQT), is a test that helps you practice for the SAT. The test also enables you to enter the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship program.
The PSAT is usually given once a year in the fall, around October.
According to The College Board, the PSAT was revised to match the changes made to the SAT and to “support all students with a clear focus on the skills and knowledge that matter most for college and career success.”
Changes to the new 2015 PSAT include changes to the format of the exam, scoring scale, and question types. Most of the changes are reflective of the changes made to the new 2016 SAT.
The largest single change to the new PSAT is the introduction of multiple different PSAT types intended for students in different grades in high school. Previously, there was only one PSAT/NMSQT test. Now, there are three different types of PSAT:
The format of the new tests are identical across all of the new PSAT types, and are as follows:
The scoring scales used on the new PSAT actually differ depending on the type of PSAT:
Four types of questions are featured on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section: words in context, command of evidence, informational graphics, and text complexity.
Words in Context questions measure your understanding of how word choice influences meaning, shapes mood and tone, reflects point of view, or lends precision or interest. The Writing and Language portion measures students’ ability to apply knowledge of words, phrases, and language in general in the context of extended prose passages.
Command of Evidence questions test students’ ability to identify the portion of text that serves as the best evidence for the conclusions they reach. You both interpret text and support that interpretation by citing the most relevant textual support. The Writing and Language portion measures students’ capacity to revise a text to improve its development of information and ideas.
Informational Graphics questions ask students to interpret information conveyed in one or more graphics (tables, graphs, charts, etc.) and to integrate that information with information found in the text. The Reading test has two passages that include one or two graphics each. The Writing and Language portion has one or more passages that include one or more graphics, and asks students to consider information in graphics as they make decisions about how and whether to revise a passage.
Text Complexity questions include passages that span a specified range of text complexity levels from grades 9-10 to postsecondary entry. Students are asked to make and refine decisions about the placement of passages within complexity bands.
More generally, the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section requires students to answer questions based on their ability to read and refine the text as a whole.
The most important thing about the new Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is that students need to read entire passages to answer the questions.
The new PSAT has a no-calculator math section, which is worth about a third of your math score. The sections of the math test that do allow a calculator also feature questions that do not require a calculator to solve, where use of a calculator could serve to actually slow down the problem solving process. These question types assess how well students make use of appropriate tools.
Four types of questions appear in the Math section: algebra, problem solving and data analysis, advanced math, and additional topics. Each of these broader question types may be broken down into more specific math topics.
Algebra questions require students to solve equations and systems of equations, to create expressions, equations, and inequalities to solve problems, and to rearrange and interpret formulas.
Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions require students to create and analyze relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units, to describe relationships shown graphically, and to summarize qualitative and quantitative data.
Advanced Math questions require students to rewrite expressions, to create, analyze, and solve quadratic and higher-order equations, and to manipulate polynomials to solve problems.
Additional Topics questions require students to calculate area and volume, to investigate lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems, and to work with trigonometric functions.
More generally, the math section of the new PSAT thoroughly tests your foundational knowledge of math topics in the context of real world situations, involving science, social science, or career related topics, focusing specifically on the math needed to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
This is a question with no easy answer. It depends on your strengths and weaknesses. The math section of the test is more advanced and counts more heavily toward your overall composite score, and calculators are only available for certain math sections. This will benefit students who are talented in math or who have taken more advanced math classes. Likewise, the evidence based reading and writing section of the test favors students with strong reading comprehension skills and an in-depth knowledge of English grammar. From College Board’s perspective, the new PSAT is more closely aligned with the demands of college and readiness for a career. Students who have done well in all school subjects should benefit from the test changes.
To register for the PSAT, you have to contact your high school counselor for the test. Make sure you know the date, time, and location of the test ahead of time. Online registration for the PSAT/NMSQT is not available.
To take the PSAT, there is a $12 charge; however, sometimes schools charge an additional fee to cover administrative costs. The costs may vary by school.
Score reports are mailed to your high school in December. Each school makes its own decisions on how and when to distribute the scores. Scores are not available via phone or online.
If you leave the PSAT testing room before the exam is over, your score is cancelled. However, students should finish the exam because PSAT scores are not sent to colleges.
If you are a junior and are concerned about taking the PSAT to prepare for the SAT, then you have other options to prepare for the SAT. You can visit your counselor for information on other preparation options. If you are concerned about receiving information about colleges, you can complete the Student Descriptive Questionnaire when you register for the SAT. If you are concerned about National Merit Scholarship, then you can still enter programs conducted by National Merit Scholarship Corporation if you meet other requirements to enter their competitions. For more information on the National Merit Corporation and their programs, please visit www.nationalmerit.org.
You can take the PSAT only once a year. The test is given in October every year. Students usually take the PSAT in both the 10th and 11th grades. Only your junior year scores will count towards the National Merit Scholarship Program.
A Commended Scholar means the student was in the top 5% of students in their state.
The cutoff score for Commended Scholar varies from year to year and state to state.
No, the Commended Scholar award is given for the prestige involved. It is an achievement to become a Commended Scholar and universities recognize this.
A university may offer a scholarship if the student is a Commended Scholar but they do not receive a scholarship from the National Merit Scholar organization.
The PSAT math sections cover up to high school geometry. No PSAT math section will include any math questions from Algebra II; however, Algebra II is covered in the SAT.
If you have the goal of becoming a National Merit Semifinalist, it is best to start by the June before the 10th grade. Otherwise, a student should start by the summer before the 11th grade.
Although colleges do not consider your PSAT scores for college admissions, they are interested in seeing whether or not you were recognized as a National Merit Scholar or Commended Scholar.
You can visit www.nationalmerit.org for information on scholarships associated with the PSAT. For other scholarships, click here.
“Duke TIP talent search helps gifted students and their families find out how advanced the students’ abilities truly are. Traditional testing often fails to measure the variation among many gifted students who reach the upper limits of scoring on grade-level exams. By taking advanced above-level (at least two years above a student’s current grade placement) testing through Duke TIP’s talent searches, gifted students and their families gain a far better understanding of where the student stands in relation to his/her gifted peers and what level of educational challenge is appropriate. Taking the SAT or ACT in seventh grade gives students a chance to practice and become familiar with the exams that play a major role in college admissions. Students’ early experience with the college entrance exam is helpful in preparing them to take it in high school. All talent search participants receive resources and publications to assist the student’s educational growth.”
Excerpt from Duke TIP website. For more information on the Duke TIP Program, visit www.tip.duke.edu.
“The Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) is a two-year residential early college entrance program serving approximately 400 students at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. It is a member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Each year TAMS admits approximately 200 new students gifted in mathematics and science following their 10th grade year of high school. These students are entered into full-time college studies alongside traditional college students and proceed to earn two years of college credit that is transferable in some situations while at the same time completing curriculum to qualify for a high school diploma. Typical TAMS students receive both a high school diploma and more than 60 college credits, allowing them to enter university with enough credit to qualify as a junior. TAMS encourages a strong sense of community and esprit de corps among its students. Class rings, for example, are presented from second-year students to first-year students in a ceremony early in the school year. All students live together in McConnell Hall, a separate dormitory building from the main university population. A limited number of classes are open only to TAMS students.”
Excerpt from TAMS website. For more information on the TAMS Program, visit www.tams.unt.edu.
“The Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) at Stanford University is a continuing project for developing and offering multimedia computer-based distance-learning courses. This program combines the technical and instructional expertise to provide an individualized educational experience to students of all ages. This program offers courses in different subjects from kindergarten through advanced undergraduate levels. The EPGY Program offers distance-learning courses as well as residential summer programs for ages 5 and older. The EPGY Distance-Learning Courses use the computer as an instructional resource to teach students in a virtual classroom session. The EPGY Summer Programs provide opportunities to students to interact with other students with similar interests and abilities. Students also are provided with opportunities to take course that are not generally offered as part of their curriculum.”
Excerpt from Stanford’s EPGY website. For more information, please visit epgy.stanford.edu.