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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. Approximately 3.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT each year.[1] In 2013, 1.59 million high school sophomores and 1.55 million high school juniors took the PSAT.[2] Younger students are also eligible to take the test. The scores from the PSAT/NMSQT are used to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program.[1]


  • History 1
  • Format 2
  • Scoring 3
    • Selection index 3.1
    • Levels of recognition 3.2
  • Popular culture 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


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 [3] The Writing Skills section, introduced in 1997, was partially derived from the discontinued Test of Standard Written English (TSWE).[4]


Students register for the exam through high schools which are members of the College Board. The test is composed of three sections: Math, Critical Reading, and Writing Skills, and takes two hours and ten minutes to complete.[1] Each of the three sections is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, which add up to a maximum composite score of 240 points.[5] This parallels the SAT, which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 (the narrower range is to distinguish from which test a score comes and to denote less accuracy). However, unlike the new (2005) SAT, the new PSAT does 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 test is mostly multiple-choice, but there are 10 open-response math questions that require takers to enter their responses on a grid. Students are allowed to use calculators on the math sections.[5][6]

The PSAT changed its format and content in Fall 2015, to reflect upcoming changes to the SAT. [7]


Selection index

The sum of the three scores is known as the Selection Index and is used, along with four general criteria for eligibility such as U.S. citizenship status (or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied, and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law), for both preliminary and primary selection in the National Merit Scholarship Programs.

The minimum Selection Index for recognition as a Semifinalist is determined by selection unit (50 states, three other geographic units, and a number of boarding school regions) and is set by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in each state at whatever score yields about the 99th percentile to ensure an even geographical distribution of Semifinalists. However, there are objections to this practice, particularly from those who score well in states with high minima. Because it is dependent on selection unit, on the number of students taking the test in the selection unit, and how well the students in the selection unit do on the test, the minimum varies from year to year and from selection unit to selection unit. For example, for the 2007 competition (2005 PSAT), minimum scores required for Semifinalist recognition ranged from 207 in Mississippi to 224 in Massachusetts, with an unweighted mean of 215.

Levels of recognition

Students not recognized as Semifinalists whose Selection Index is above a different limit are recognized as Commended Students and receive Letters of Commendation. This minimum 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). 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. Afterwards students must complete an application to become a Finalist. 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

The PSAT has been administered every fall since 1971. It used to be administered on a Saturday morning. However, in recent years, it has become a popular subject of discourse among test-takers on various social media networks, especially after the Wednesday administration of the test, when most students take it. 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 despite the fact that since 2012, test participants have been required to copy and sign a statement agreeing to the test regulations, which include not discussing the test. That statement must be written in cursive, and in recent years, that requirement has drawn ire from both students and teachers, as many students find writing in cursive difficult. However, in 2015, the requirement to write the statement in cursive was removed.[8][9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "2014 PSAT/NMSQT® Quick Reference" (pdf). Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Conversion norms for general population on supervised tests". Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  4. ^ "Revised PSAT Debuts in October". Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  5. ^ a b "Understanding 2014 PSAT/NMSQT® Scores" (pdf). College Board. 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Winerip, Michael (1993-10-13). "Now, P.S.A.T. Means Pressure: Call It Pre-Preliminary Test Anxiety".  
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Strauss, Valerie (2013-10-16). "#PSAT — Students tweet amusing reactions to standardized test".  
  9. ^ "Teacher fights cursive requirement on PSAT". Douglas County, GA. 2014-10-22. Retrieved 16 March 2015. 

External links

  • What's on the Test
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