The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Basically, the PSAT is a practice test for the SAT that is given in high schools in October.
The PSAT takes only about half the time of the actual SAT and at $14 costs much less than the SAT. Students register for the test through their high school. Some high schools restrict which students can take the test. For example, only sophomores and juniors might be allowed to take the test. The test is administered during school hours on a Wednesday or on the following Saturday.
The scores can be used to estimate a student’s SAT scores. The student will receive scores in Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Multiplying the score by 10 will give the equivalent of the SAT score.
Juniors who take the test may qualify to be a National Merit Scholar depending on their score. The cut-off score varies each and by state. Students who meet the cut-off score will qualify for recognition for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top third of this group of students will qualify as finalists and may progress in the scholarship competition. Finalists are determined by transcripts, application, and SAT scores. Winners are selected from the finalist group. Winners receive a $2,500 scholarship and may be eligible for a corporate or college based scholarship.
Often colleges and universities that are trying to improve their academic reputation will actively recruit National Merit Scholars. However, qualifying as a National Merit Scholar isn’t going to distinguish a student in the application process for the most competitive schools. In many ways, it is considered just part of the minimum standard for applying.
If possible, students should take the PSAT as sophomores. This gives them a low cost way to determine their likely SAT score and their strengths and weaknesses. Students can study for the SAT the summer before their junior year and benefit with higher SAT and PSAT scores.