Student Life

What is the PSAT and How Can I Score Well on It?

Spoiler alert: It’s not as bad as it may seem.

Student Contributor, Piper Megellas

May 08, 2023

What is the PSAT and How Can I Score Well on It?
Here are some tips on how to reach your best PSAT scores. 
Each October, high school students around the country crowd into classrooms and gymnasiums in anticipation of taking the PSAT, or the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Among the slew of other standardized tests that students face during high school - like the SAT, ACT, and AP Tests - the PSAT can get lost in the shuffle, and its importance relative to that of other tests is often underestimated.

What is the PSAT? Why is the PSAT Important?

The PSAT is a slightly abbreviated version of the well-known college entrance exam the SAT, and is scored on a smaller scale of 300-1520. The PSAT does serve as good practice for later exams, but it is most important due to its association with NMSC - The National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Through the NMSC, the top 1% of test scorers are named National Merit Semifinalists, and through an application process, stand to be named as National Merit Scholars, a group of high school students around the country that receive scholarships from the cooperation or their corporate partners. Additionally, many colleges offer scholarships for National Merit Semifinalists, Finalists, or Scholars, and these scholarships may cover up to full tuition, room and board, and a stipend. *Access Peterson's trusted test prep for the SAT, ACT, and more with one easy subscription. Start your prep today! Because of this, scoring well on the PSAT can be extremely helpful for students who are unsure of how they will afford college.

How to Get a Good Score on the PSAT

The question is, then, how can students prepare to score well on the PSAT? First, it is important to understand the structure of the PSAT.
The PSAT is split into four sections - the reading section, which has 47 questions and a 60 minute time limit; the writing and language test, which has 44 questions and a 35 minute time limit; the math no calculator portion, which has 17 questions and a 25 minute time limit; and the math calculator portion, which has 31 questions and a 45 minute time limit. Each section can be approached in a multitude of ways.


When it comes to the reading section, timing is incredibly important, and which method you should use to approach the test will vary based on how you manage your time. In order to gauge how to be most successful, analyze whether or not you generally run out of time on your practice tests. If you do, this may be a sign that you are not a quick enough reader to closely read every passage and still complete the entire section. Instead, it may be in your best interest to learn how to effectively skim the passage for important information.
One way of doing this is to read the questions beforehand and look exclusively for information addressed in the questions. If you don’t tend to run out of time, you are probably a fast enough reader to read the entire passage closely. Either way, it is important to remember that the information asked in practically every question should be addressed somewhere within the passage. Make sure to look for synonyms to words used in the questions or direct quotations. Success in the reading section ultimately boils down to learning how to pick through the information you are presented with to find the information you need.

Writing and Language

The second section of the test, the writing and language test, is comprised of questions concerning grammar, sentence structure, and word choice. If you currently have a low score in this section, studying grammar is the easiest way to raise it. Make sure to learn all of the relevant grammar rules, including punctuation and capitalization. It may be especially helpful to focus on connecting two sentences using conjunctions, commas, semicolons, and colons. These rules tend to be straightforward and can be learned through rote memorization. If you are already nailing the grammar section, focus your efforts on word and phrasing choices. Remember that you want to choose an answer that is not too wordy - many questions attempt to fool the test taker by using complicated jargon when a more simplistic approach is actually correct.


The mathematics section is actually split into two categories - calculator and non-calculator. For both of these sections, it is important that you learn to manage your time. If you see a question that you are immediately unsure of, skip it and return to it later. You do not want to waste time on questions you have a low chance on. Rather, prioritize questions that you think you have a higher chance of getting correct, as you won’t lose points for leaving a question blank. Unlike in some other standardized tests, like the ACT, there is a non-calculator section in the PSAT that may trip up some students. In order to prepare, try practicing doing problems in your math class without a calculator when possible. The best way to improve in this section is to brush up on your mental math skills, as students often become reliant on a calculator.

PSAT Success

By applying these tips, you should be on the track to improving your PSAT score and hopefully getting a chance and National Merit. Good luck and happy testing! *Fastweb Disclaimer Fastweb provides discount information as a service to our members. We make every effort to ensure accuracy but are not liable for the availability of discounts provided by a third party. Discounts may vary by location. As an affiliate partner of some discount providers, Fastweb may earn from qualifying purchases. The discount provider may track how you navigated to their site, but we do not share personal information with them.

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