The PSAT is a two-hour test given once a year in October. Many students take the PSAT, not only as preparation for the SAT taken in senior year, but also to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Competition.
As with the SAT, the PSAT has separate math and verbal sections and a third section testing English grammar. Each subject is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 and these scores are combined to create the National Merit Scholarship selection index.
Almost all students take the PSAT during their junior year, but many students take the PSAT when they are sophomores to get the feel of the test. However, it is only the scores from the PSAT taken in your junior year that are considered for the National Merit Scholarship competition.
This scholarship competition awards approximately 8,200 scholarships annually. The selection process starts with the choosing of National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists and Commended Scholars. Cutoffs vary from state to state but typically Semi-Finalists score in the top one percent of students in their state and Commended Scholars between the top one to four percent. Most of the approximately 16,000 Semi-Finalists become Finalists, and half of those ultimately receive National Merit Scholarships.
The most common reasons for taking the PSAT/NMSQT are: