During October and November, the college admissions process is in full swing. Seniors are frantically preparing for Early Application and Decision deadlines; juniors and sophomores are sitting for the PSATs; and freshmen are being dragged to join on their older siblings’ college tours. In a world full of differing information about standardized testing, students need to understand what the PSAT can offer them.
The PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is a test to prepare students for the SAT, one of the two standardized tests still used as benchmarks in college admissions. The PSAT measures students’ academic strengths in four sections: Writing and Language, Reading, Math Calculator, and Math No Calculator.
Standardized testing is exactly that, standardized. The PSAT is in no way a measure of students’ academic capacity or intelligence. The test is purely used to see how you will perform on the actual SAT. The preliminary test is a great baseline to understand where you need to focus your SAT preparation. However, because many students believe the PSAT is only practice, they do not study or look over test materials. While these test scores are not meant to be stressed over, the PSAT is not just a throw-away test. The second title for the assessment, NMSQT, is for the second use of results. The PSAT is used to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program and compete for national recognition and university scholarships— a great opportunity for students to both have a leg up in college admissions and finance college. Sadly, National Merit is only for juniors taking the test, and many sophomores who take the PSAT plan to repeat the following year for a chance at National Merit recognition.
Hearing your peers discuss college admissions and the PSAT can be stressful. Are you doing enough? Should you have taken the test this year? How will your score compare to your classmates? The point of the PSAT is to alleviate the stress surrounding the SAT. By taking the PSAT, you will have a better understanding of what to work on and not go into SAT day unaware. Taking the test can clarify a lot of uncertainty around the SAT. However, although taking the test early can help students feel prepared, taking or not taking the PSAT does not mean anything for college admissions.
National Merit can be a great advantage for students applying to college, but the bottom line is that College Board, the provider of the test, does not send PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10 scores to colleges. Taking the PSAT early will only help students if that will help them prepare. There is no reason for sophomores, not to mention freshmen, to think that not participating in the PSAT will disadvantage them.
After test day, it will take a few weeks for scores to come out. Many test-takers await this day with anxiety and expectation. Streamlined by the internet, scores are available after an email from College Board invites you to make an account on their website and enter a code for your scores.
There are five types of scores reported, also including percentiles, score ranges, and interpretation of your performance. Students are given their Total Score, Section Scores (Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing), and General Test Scores (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math). Also available are cross-test scores and subscores. Subscores score individual sections of the PSATs, such as Heart of Algebra or Words in Context. Cross-test scores give scores on subjects of science and history, which are not directly tested but are analysed to demonstrate mathematical and English skills.
College Board, the center for most college admission tools, has tons of resources for PSAT participants, including sample test and score reports, FAQs, and preparation materials. Remember: The most important part of the PSAT season is that your PSAT will not predict your SAT scores or reflect your intelligence.
“Who Sees Your Scores.” SAT Suite of Assessments, College Board, 1 July 2021,
“Your Summary Score Report - College Board.” SAT Suite of Assessments, College Board,
About the Author:
Georgia Keeler is a sophomore student. She is a passionate advocate for justice in her community and an avid reader. Georgia is the elected treasurer of her political debate club, a Civics Unplugged Fellow, and a representative on her school’s Student Council. When not writing, reading, or singing, she can be found with her friends and working through piles of homework.