Your Guide to the Current PSAT

The PSAT is now more similar to the SAT than ever before, which makes it the perfect practice exam - learn how!

Elizabeth Hoyt

August 03, 2016

Your Guide to the Current PSAT

Students began taking a new, redesigned SAT this past March (2016). But, how did the SAT’s redesign affect the PSAT? Well, other than the exclusion of the essay, the PSAT is now more similar than ever before, in terms of the content you’re tested on, the format and even the methodology behind scoring.

For those who aren’t aware, the PSAT/NMSQT is basically a preliminary SAT exam that’s taken by high school sophomores and juniors, basically as a warm-up to the SAT. The results of the PSAT exam also qualify students for National Merit Scholarships and other distinctions, too.

That’s why taking the 2016 PSAT/NMSQT is a great idea in order to prepare for the SAT.

Start thinking about whether or not you’re interested in taking the exam now, since mid-October is the main time the 2016 PSAT/NMSQT will be administered in fall 2016.

You should know, though, that there were a few updates to the most recent version of the PSAT you should prepare for – including the fact that there are not many practice tests to utilize. The College Board has an official sample PSAT, which is the most accurate practice exam available.

The most recent version of the PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes (was previously 2 hours and 10 minutes), so prepare to focus a little bit longer.

Other than the official College Board PSAT sample practice test, you’ll need to rely on older sample tests for practice. These older tests, however, are meant to be taken in the shorter time period. So, if you utilize older exams for practice, make sure to add on an extra section to practice your timing and ensure you’re practicing on accurate amount of material within the time period given.

Another update: there are only four answer choices now, as opposed to five in previous years. That’s great news, though, because it means your odds of guessing the right answer are improved.

Even better? The current version of the PSAT doesn’t penalize you for wrong answers as it did in previous versions.

The PSAT is scored now to help you best predict your SAT score. Now, the PSAT is scored on a scale from 320-1520. Scores range based on subjects: 160-760 for the math section; 160-760 for reading and writing sections. The previous PSAT was on an 800 scale, rather than 760.

Understanding the new scoring system is a bit complicated, but the College Board breaks it down here.

Note, however, that in addition to the scoring methods listed above, you will also receive sub-scores on your score report for math, reading, writing and language sections from 8-38. Your sub-scores are meant to give you a better understanding of your strongest subjects and the subjects in which you could benefit from more practice.

While your PSAT score is meant to predict your SAT score now, it’s important to keep in mind that the PSAT is not exactly the same. The SAT is graded on a 1600 scoring system and the PSAT falls slightly short of that since the SAT is a more difficult test. However, that does mean that if you receive a 1250 on the PSAT, you’ll likely have a similar score on the SAT.

That being said, a perfect PSAT score doesn’t always equate to a perfect SAT score. While the scoring scales for both tests mirror one another, the PSAT scores are lesser to account for the differences within the difficulty levels of the two exams.

Amidst these changes and updates, let’s not lose sight of the more important PSAT factor: practice. That’s the real value in taking the exam – more so than the actual score you receive. The other main benefits of a high score (other than giving you confidence for the SAT) is the National Merit Program potential, AP (advanced placement) course potential, along with some other new scholarship partners the College Board paired up with. Heads up: now that the PSAT scoring has been adjusted, the National Merit cutoff score reflects the change as well.

If you plan on taking the SAT at any point, the PSAT is a great exam to practice your testing skills, see if you qualify for AP courses and, as a bonus, potentially qualify you for some scholarships and distinctions.

Since you’ll be taking practice exams to prepare anyway, think about taking on the PSAT. It’s going to benefit you in terms of SAT preparation more than ever before and that is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss!

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