What's tested on the PSAT?

The first step to achieving PSAT success is to learn about the structure of the test and why it’s so important for your future. The PSAT, like any standardized test, is predictable. The more comfortable you are with the test structure, the more confidently you will approach each question type, thus maximizing your score.

PSAT Test Sections

The PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and is made up mostly of multiple-choice questions that test two subject areas: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The latter is broken into a Reading Test and a Writing & Language Test.
PSAT TEST SECTIONAllotted TimeQuestion Count
PSAT Reading60 Minutes47 Questions
PSAT Writing & Language35 Minutes44 Questions
PSAT Math70 Minutes48 Questions
Total165 Minutes139 Questions

The PSAT Math Test: What to Expect

The PSAT Math Test is broken down into a calculator section and a no-calculator section. Questions across the sections consist of multiple-choice, student-produced response (Grid-in), and more comprehensive multi-part math questions.
FeaturesCalculator SectionNo-Calculator SectionTotal
Duration45 Minutes25 Minutes70 Minutes
Multiple-Choice27 Questions13 Questions40 Questions
Grid-In4 Questions4 Questions8 Questions
Total31 Questions; 45 Minutes17 Questions; 25 Minutes48 Questions; 70 Minutes

The PSAT Math Test is divided into four content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.
PSAT Math Test Content Area Distribution
Heart of Algebra (16 Questions)Analyzing and fluently solving equations and systems of equations; creating expressions, equations, and inequalities to represent relationships between quantities and to solve problems; rearranging and interpreting formulas
Problem Solving and Data Analysis (16 Questions)Creating and analyzing relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units; describing relationships shown graphically; summarizing qualitative and quantitative data
Passport to Advanced Math (14 Questions)Rewriting expressions using their structure; creating, analyzing, and fluently solving quadratic and higher-order equations; purposefully manipulating polynomials to solve problems
Additional Topics in Math (2 Questions)Making area and volume calculations in context; investigating lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems

A few math questions might look like something you’d expect to see on a science or history test. These “crossover” questions are designed to test your ability to use math in real-world scenarios. There are a total of 14 “crossover” questions that will contribute to subscores that span multiple tests. Seven of the questions will contribute to the Analysis in Science subscore, and seven will contribute to the Analysis in History/Social Studies subscore. Finally, note that each multiple-choice and Grid-in math question is worth 1 point, regardless of difficulty level.

The PSAT Reading Test: What to Expect

The PSAT Reading Test will focus on your comprehension and reasoning skills when presented with challenging extended prose passages taken from a variety of content areas.
PSAT Reading Test Overview
Timing60 Minutes
Questions47 passage-based multiple-choice questions
Passages4 single passages and 1 set of paired passages
Passage Length500-700 words per passage or passage set

Passages will draw from U.S. and World Literature, History/Social Studies, and Science. One set of History/Social Studies or Science passages will be paired. History/Social Studies and Science passages can also be accompanied by graphical representations of data such as charts, graphs, tables, and so on.

PSAT Reading Test Passage Types

U.S. and World Literature1 passage with 9 questions
History/Social Studies2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired-passage set with 9-10 questions each
Science2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired-passage set with 9-10 questions each

The multiple-choice questions for each passage will be arranged in order from the more general to the more specific so that you can actively engage with the entire passage before answering questions about details.
Skills Tested by Reading Test Questions
Information and IdeasClose reading, citing textual evidence, determining central ideas and themes
SummarizingUnderstanding relationships, interpreting words and phrases in context
RhetoricAnalyzing word choice, assessing overall text structure, assessing part-whole relationships, analyzing point of view, determining purpose, analyzing arguments
SynthesisAnalyzing multiple texts, analyzing quantitative information

The PSAT Writing and Language Test: What to Expect

The PSAT Writing & Language Test will focus on your ability to revise and edit text from a range of content areas.
PSATWriting and Language Test Overview
Timing35 Minutes
Questions44 passage-based multiple-choice questions
Passages4 single passages with 12 questions each
Passage Length450-550 words per passage

PSAT Writing and Language Passage Types

The PSAT Writing & Language Test will contain four single passages, one from each of the following subject areas: Careers, Humanities, History/Social Studies, and Science.
CareersHot topics in “major fields of work” such as information technology and healthcare
HumanitiesArts and letters
History/Social StudiesDiscussion of historical or social sciences topics such as anthropology, communication studies, economics, education, human geography, law, linguistics, political science, psychology, and sociology
ScienceExploration of concepts, findings, and discoveries in the natural sciences including Earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics

Passages will also vary in the “type” of text. A passage can be an argument, an informative or explanatory text, or a nonfiction narrative.
Writing & Language Passage Text Type Distribution
Argument1-2 passages
Informative/Explanatory Text1-2 passages
Nonfiction Narrative1 passage

Some passages and/or questions will refer to one or more informational graphics that represent data. Questions associated with these graphical representations will ask you to revise and edit the passage based on the data presented in the graphic.
The most prevalent question format on the PSAT Writing & Language Test will ask you to choose the best of three alternatives to an underlined portion of the passage or to decide that the current version is the best option. You will be asked to improve the development, organization, and diction in the passages to ensure they conform to conventional standards of English grammar, usage, and style.
Skills Tested by Writing & Language Test Questions
Expression of Ideas (24 Questions)Development, organization, and effective language use
Standard English Conventions (20 Questions)Sentence structure, conventions of usage, and conventions of punctuation

How is the PSAT scored?

On the PSAT, you will receive a score ranging from 10 to 40 on each of the three tests (Reading, Writing & Language, and Math) as well as a score ranging from 160 to 760 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and for Math. Your overall PSAT score will range from 320 to 1520 and is calculated by adding your two area scores together.
In addition to your overall scores, you will receive subscores that provide a deeper analysis of your PSAT performance. The PSAT also gives you a percentile ranking, which allows you to compare your scores with those of other high school juniors who took the test. For example, a student with a percentile of 63 has earned a score better than 63 percent of that year’s test takers.

When and where do I take the PSAT?

The PSAT is offered every year in mid-October. It is administered at your high school, not at a testing center. Homeschooled students can sign up at the nearest local high school. Most high schools administer the exam on a Saturday; some offer it on a Wednesday. Some high schools recommend that their sophomores take the test for additional practice, but sophomores who take the PSAT are not eligible to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship unless they are in an accelerated program and are preparing to graduate the following year. However, some schools will administer the test to their students only once (at the beginning of junior year). If this is the case, sophomores wanting to take the PSAT need to get permission from their guidance counselors.

Why should I take the PSAT?

The PSAT is also known as the Preliminary SAT, and is a practice version of the SAT. You can use your results from the PSAT to predict your score on the SAT or the ACT. Your performance on the PSAT can also give you insight on how to structure your study plan for the SAT or ACT, and help you pinpoint areas on which you need to focus. Additionally, taking the PSAT can lead to more money for college through the National Merit Scholarship Program. Your PSAT scores are automatically submitted for consideration, and you may be selected as National Merit Scholarship Finalist and ultimately receive an award.

Getting ready to take the PSAT? Check out our study plan.

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