PSAT® testing is a way for high school students to prepare for the SAT®s and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships. PSAT® stands for Preliminary SAT®; it is also referred to as the NMSQT®, or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Though SAT® used to be an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test, this is no longer the case, and the test is simply referred to as the SAT®.
PSAT® testing is typically administered during students' junior year of high school, most often in the month of October. Students may take the test in the ninth or tenth grade as well, but they will not be eligible for the scholarships. There is a small fee to take the test. Though the test is not required, many experts agree that it is the single best way to prepare for the SAT®, which is required by nearly all colleges.
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During PSAT® testing, test takers are asked questions regarding mathematics, reading, and writing skills. Though the format of the PSAT® varies from the SAT®, many of the questions and the directions are similar. This allows students to relieve some anxiety about taking the SAT®, because they will already know what to expect. When taking the test, students are given the option to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition; this can lead to college scholarships, and many colleges look highly on high school graduates who received a National Merit Scholar designation.
Most colleges do not check PSAT® scores for any reason. Experts generally view this as a positive thing, because while the scores can be a great indication of how a student will do on the SAT®, or areas where he or she needs to improve, low scores will not negatively impact the student's future. For these reasons, there is almost no downside to taking the PSAT®.
In PSAT® testing, test scores are presented on a range of 20 to 80. Scores from 40 to 50 are considered average, according to College Board. Test takers also receive the percentile in which they fall; this helps them compare their skills to other students who will be applying for college at the same time. Once PSAT® testing is completed, and students have received their scores, they can begin to prepare more specifically for the SAT®. Knowing specific areas of weakness can be extremely beneficial, and allows students to give extra attention to these areas, either independently, or with specialized help or tutoring.