The preliminary SAT®, or PSAT®, is a test offered to high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in the United States. It functions as a practice test for future college admissions exams and provides students with the opportunity to qualify for scholarships provided by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The College Board, a nationally recognized educational organization, creates, administers, and scores the PSAT® exam. Most students take the test at their high schools on a predetermined date in October.
Most students take the PSAT® exam to prepare for the SAT and eventual college coursework. The multiple-choice test is divided into three main sections: critical reading, writing, and math. Students are allotted 30 minutes to complete the writing section, and 50 minutes each for math and critical reading. Students are required to comprehend short reading passages, identify and correct grammatical errors, describe graphs, and solve problems in elementary math, algebra, and geometry.
There are a total of 125 questions on the PSAT® exam, and the scoring procedure is very similar to the one used on the SAT®. Each section is scored on a scale from 20 to 80, and each question is weighted evenly. To discourage guessing, students are not penalized for skipping questions, while one quarter of a point is deducted for a wrong answer. Exam scores are adjusted to reflect the difficulty of a given test.
The NMSC uses PSAT® exam scores to determine semifinalists for their scholarship program. The corporation recognizes individuals who score in or around the 99th percentile of all juniors who take a given test. Such individuals are deemed national merit semifinalists, a designation that is very attractive on a college application. Semifinalists submit personal essays and letters of recommendation to be considered for finalist status. Finalists become eligible for scholarship money provided by the NMSC and private corporations.
Students can prepare for the PSAT® exam by studying test preparation materials, working with tutors, and taking practice tests supplied by the College Board and private enterprises. Many bookstores, libraries, and online sources offer test preparation guides to familiarize students with the testing format and offer tips on how to manage time. Tutors and practice tests help students improve on problem areas and prepare for the types of questions featured on the actual exam.
A high school student who is interested in learning more about the PSAT® exam can talk to his or her guidance counselor. Counselors are generally very familiar with the tests and have access to many helpful resources. They can explain the exam in detail and inform students of how and when they can register to take it.