What is the difference between the SAT test and the PSAT/NMSQT test?

With the College Board changes in March of 2015, the two tests are very similar. They both contain three sections: Math, Reading and Writing/Language. However, the PSAT/NMSQT does not contain an optional essay and is fifteen minutes shorter. (2:45) The PSAT/NMSQT is only offered in October (third Tuesday or Saturday) and the SAT is offered seven times a year (October, November, December, January, March, May and June). The SAT is used for college entrance as well as scholarship opportunities, but the PSAT/NMSQT’s sole purpose is to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship program.

Both tests are important and when students are studying test-taking techniques for one test, essentially they are also studying for the other test.

Why is the PSAT/NMQST so important?

If a student’s PSAT/NMQST score falls within the semi-finalist range,(99 percentile) it can qualify him or her for numerous scholarship opportunities that can include full tuition, room and board, graduate school money, study abroad stipends and more. For many colleges, having a National Merit Scholar is a bragging right for their school since semi-finalists represent the top one percent of the nation. PSAT/NMQST scores from minorities are also entered in The National Achievement Award.

What if I miss the one chance at the PSAT/NMSQT when it counts?

If your student misses the PSAT/NMSQT in their junior year due to illness or extenuating circumstances, they can take the “alternative testing option.” Students can take the SAT 1 in exchange for the PSAT/NMSQT and the score is converted and used in substitution for the PSAT/NMSQT. They have up to eight months to retake this test several times (after the October PSAT/NMSQT has been administered). This procedure includes calling or sending a letter or fax to the National Merit Corporation (by March 1st) stating that your child did not take the test and you want the extension/alternative testing time. Students will need to have a counselor (or parent if homeschooled) sign-off on this request. It is not necessary to give a reason why they missed the test on the packet. The National Merit Corporation will send you information showing future SAT test dates and tell you to use their code on the test (code 0085). The scores will then go directly to them [The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (847)866-5100]. Students will still be eligible for scholarships opportunities. These scores can also count for their SAT as well. Besides the National Merit code, students will need to put down the code(s) for the colleges they want their SAT score to go to as well. (It is always best to take the PSAT/NMSQT if possible because it is shorter an easier than the SAT so start in 8th grade practicing on and taking the PSAT/NMSQT.) 

What is a great PSAT/NMSQT score?

It varies yearly depending on what state you live in and the average test score the year it is taken. With the redesigned PSAT in 2015, the new scoring range is 320-1520 and it may take a few years to find out the cut-off scores for each state. The National Merit Corporation will send all semi-finalists information and details about applying to be a finalist. To not be disqualified, make sure you do everything they ask and get the information mailed back in time to be eligible for any awards. Make follow-up calls to make sure materials were received. Out of the contenders, scholars are then picked. There are also scholarship opportunities for those who score at the National Merit Commendable level.

What about getting my test booklet back?

The PSAT/NMSQT booklet will automatically be sent back to you/your school, but to get your SAT information, you will have to order the Question and Answer Service from the College Board. This service is usually offered for the October, January and May tests. Not only does this allow you the opportunity to go over the questions that were missed, but also the packet can be used to practice taking the test over again. Homeschoolers can use the code for their state to receive their booklet back in the mail. E.g. Texas homeschool code is 994499.

How many times can I take the PSAT/NMSQT?

Students can take the PSAT “multiple” times so start with the PSAT 8/9. It is only offered once per year, but a student can take advantage of the test in the freshman, sophomore, and junior years. However, the score will only count for scholarships during the junior year.

If you have been told that your child cannot take the PSAT/NMSQT more than once, please click on this link which explains that a student CAN take it “in multiple years”: http://www.collegeboard.com/school/pno/psat_ordering_help.html#psat_max_exam_num