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Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test
Logo since 2017
TypePaper-based standardized test
Developer / administratorCollege Board, NMSC
Knowledge / skills testedReading, mathematics
Duration2 hours 14 minutes
Score / grade range160–760 for two sections, adding up to a maximum score of 1520
OfferedHigh school juniors, sophomores, and freshmen (only in some schools)

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) in the United States. In the 2018–2019 school year, 2.27 million high school sophomores and 1.74 million high school juniors took the PSAT.[1] Scores from the PSAT/NMSQT are used to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program.[2]


The PSAT has been administered every fall since 1971. Some PSAT scores obtained before June 1993 are accepted as qualifying evidence for admission to intellectual clubs such as Intertel and American Mensa.[3][4]

Prior to 1997, the PSAT was composed of only Math and Verbal sections. The Verbal section received a double weighting to allow a full composite score of 240 points.[5] The Writing Skills section, introduced in 1997, was partially derived from the discontinued Test of Standard Written English (TSWE).[6]

The PSAT changed its format and content in Fall 2015. Originally, each of the three sections was scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, adding up to a maximum composite score of 240 points. This paralleled the SAT, which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 for each section (the narrower range is to distinguish from which test a score comes and to denote less accuracy). However, unlike the old (2005) SAT, the old PSAT did not include higher-level mathematics (e.g. concepts from Algebra II) or an essay in its writing section (which was added to the SAT in 2005). The number of multiple-choice answers was reduced from five to four, improving the likelihood of making a successful guess, and the quarter-point penalty for wrong answers was eliminated.

Continuing with the College board's transition to digital SATs internationally, the first digital PSATs were administered in October 2023.

Format and scoring[edit]

Students register for the exam through high schools that are members of the College Board. The test is composed of two sections: reading and Writing and Math. Each section has two modules. Each Reading and Writing module lasts 32 minutes, and each Math module lasts 35 minutes, for a total of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

The PSAT changed its format and content again in the Fall of 2023, continuing the transition to digital tests. The Reading and Writing Sections are combined into one section score, and the Math section now allows calculators on all sections. The scores for each section range from 120 to 760, adding up to a maximum score of 1520. Yet the National Merit Scholarship Corporation takes each section score, scored on a scale of 6 to 38, sums it, and then doubles that sum to devise the Selection Index, ranging from 36 to 228.

Levels of recognition[edit]

There are three levels of recognition: "Commended", Semi-Finalists, and Finalists. About 34,000 students, which is 3-4% of all PSAT takers, are "commended" and receive Letters of Commendation.[7]

The "commended" cut-off is determined at whichever score yields the 96th percentile nationally. It rose from 202 for the 2006 Program (2004 PSAT) to 203 for the 2007 Program (2005 PSAT).[citation needed] It was 205 for the 2008 Program (2006 PSAT) and 209 for the 2009 Program (2007 PSAT).

Students are confirmed as semifinalists as seniors, one year after taking the PSAT. Afterward, students must complete an application to become finalists. Other factors besides the PSAT Selection Index score are taken into account, such as the student's Grade Point Average (GPA) and a confirming SAT score.

Popular culture[edit]

In recent years, it has become a popular subject of discourse among test-takers on various social media networks. Many of them poke fun at passages or questions in the PSAT that they find strange or amusing. The level of discussion is so significant that in 2013, the hashtag #PSAT reached trending status on Twitter near its administration date.[8] This is even though since 2012, test participants have been required to copy and sign a statement agreeing to the test regulations, which include not discussing the test. Previously, that statement had to be written in cursive, a requirement that had drawn ire from both students and teachers, as many students found writing the statement in cursive to be difficult. However, in 2015, the requirement to write the statement in cursive was removed.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2019 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report Total Group" (PDF). College Board. 2019. p. 7. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  2. ^ "2014 PSAT/NMSQT® Quick Reference" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-03-16.
  3. ^ "Intertel - Join us". Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  4. ^ "Qualifying test scores". American Mensa. Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  5. ^ "Conversion norms for general population on supervised tests". Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  6. ^ "Revised PSAT Debuts in October". Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  7. ^ "Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Program". Spark Admissions. 2017-01-27. Retrieved 2021-10-05.
  8. ^ a b Strauss, Valerie (2013-10-16). "#PSAT — Students tweet amusing reactions to standardized test". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ "Teacher fights cursive requirement on PSAT". Douglas County, GA. 2014-10-22. Retrieved 16 March 2015.

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