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Difference Between PSAT and SAT: Taking a Deeper Look

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

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Before going deeper into the difference between PSAT and SAT, you should learn more about these two examinations. 

The PSAT stands for the Preliminary SAT. This represents an opportunity to prepare and practice for taking the SAT. The scores are tailored to forecast those in the SAT examination while ascertaining whether a student is ready for college. It also helps people work out the areas where they need improvement to score better on the SAT. It can be taken three times while in high school. 

The SAT is one of the most popular and globally acclaimed examinations for undergraduate aspirants. Most global institutions require ACT/SAT scores, which admissions committees use to ascertain applicants’ core strengths and weaknesses. SAT scores are often also used for granting scholarships to meritorious students. 

Now let’s take a deeper look into what is the difference between PSAT and SAT?

Difference between SAT and PSAT

The PSAT vs. SAT differences can be summed up as follows: 

Question Difficulty
  • SAT questions have higher difficulty levels. They are taken mainly before undergraduate college application deadlines, or you can appear for them in the 11th or 12th grade. 
  • PSAT questions have comparatively lower difficulty levels since they are preparatory. 
Score Range
  • SAT  scores have a range of 400-1600
  • PSAT scores have a range of 320-1520
Question Counts and Examination Duration
  • SAT is an examination spread over almost four hours, including the optional essay section. The SAT Essay is 50 minutes and the SAT is 180 minutes long. The PSAT takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. 
  • SAT has more questions than PSAT. It has 154 questions as compared to 139 for the PSAT. 
  • The SAT comes with an optional Essay section, which is absent from the PSAT. 
  • The no-calculator portion of the SAT Math exam has 20 questions (15 multiple-choice and 5 grid-in questions) to be completed in 25 minutes. The PSAT has 17 questions (13 multiple-choice and 4 grid-in questions) with a 25 minutes timeline. 
Examination Objective
  • SAT helps in evaluating readiness for undergraduate admissions. Universities and colleges use it for admission decisions. 
  • PSAT is not used for any admission decisions. It offers an idea of how the student will fare on the SAT and is used as the foundation for the national merit scholarship qualifying test for U.S. citizens. 


While the differences are quite clear, these examinations have a few similarities, as highlighted below: 

Examination Format & Structure
  • Both examinations use the paper and pencil format. However, the College Board is on its way to making a digital transition. The SAT and PSAT will become digital tests for March 2023 and Fall 2023, respectively. The entire SAT suite will be digital from spring 2024. 
  • Both examinations have Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections. 
  • Both examinations have no-calculator questions in the Math section. 


Topics and test content 
  • The Reading sections in both examinations have passages from world literature, U.S. founding document or a Great Global Conversation text, social sciences (economics, psychology, or sociology), and science (works that investigate foundational aspects in biology, earth sciences, physics, or chemistry). 
  • The Writing sections in both examinations have a mix of narrative and argumentative passages. 
  • The Math sections in both examinations focus on Algebra, Data Analysis and Problem Solving, and Advanced Mathematics with complex equations. 


Score Reports
  • The composite score (the total of the Evidence-based Reading and Writing, and Math sections) is generated in both exams.  


Penalties for wrong answers
  • Wrong answers do not bear any penalties for both examinations. 














Recommended Reads For SAT Exam:

SAT Preparation BooksSyllabus for SATSAT Exam Centres
SAT Exam Dates 2022SAT Exam PatternSAT Scores & Results

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which is more difficult- SAT or PSAT?

The SAT has higher difficulty levels since the PSAT is more of a practice exam for the actual SAT. Hence, the SAT is slightly tougher for aspirants. 

Is SAT math harder than PSAT?

SAT Math is more challenging than the PSAT counterpart. The SAT Math segment covers more critical aspects than the PSAT Math version. 

Download these E-books to boostup your preparation

SAT Exam Guide
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Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

Mrinal Mandal is a study abroad expert with a passion for guiding students towards their international education goals. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, earned in 2018. Since 2021, Mrinal has been working with upGrad Abroad, where he assists aspiring students in realizing their dreams of studying abroad. With his expertise and dedication, he empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of international education, making their aspirations a reality.

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The above tips are the Author's experiences. upGrad does not guarantee scores or admissions.