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What is PSAT Exam?

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

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Students often wonder what the PSAT test is all about and what does PSAT stand for. The abbreviated form for Preliminary SAT, PSAT or Pre-SAT is an annual national-level scholarship qualifying examination that functions like a practice form of the SAT examination. 

Students usually appear for this test in their 10th or 11th Std. It is conducted for 2 hours and 45 minutes and is helpful in assessing a student's writing and reading skills and Mathematics aptitude. 

With a short break of 15 minutes, the PSAT examination can easily take three hours. The first evidence-based reading section tests a student's ability to read and analyze a passage well to answer important questions derived from it. 

Then next comes the Writing and Language section, which tests a student's ability to identify and fix grammatical errors. Finally comes the Mathematics section, which is further divided into two sub-sections – one wherein calculator use is allowed and another where it isn't. This section consists of multiple-choice questions. 

Once a student appears for the test, a score report (in detail) is shared with them online. 

Different Types of PSAT Tests 

Now let's understand the different types of PSAT tests. Generally, three kinds of PSAT tests are conducted, as follows –

PSAT 8/9 

This PSAT test is specifically designed for students in the 8th and 9th grades. Since there is no fixed date for the test to be conducted, students need to consult their guidance counselor to take the test. 

Compared to the PSAT NMSQT, this PSAT test duration is 20 minutes less. As such, this test asks 19 questions. The scores for PSAT 8/9 range from 240 to 1440. 

PSAT 10 

With a structure similar to PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10 is conducted for students in the 10th grade. The duration for this PSAT test is similar to the national-level test – 2 hours 45 minutes. 

However, scoring well in PSAT 10 does not make a student eligible for the US National Merit Scholarship program. PSAT 10 is held annually during the springtime. The scores range from 320 to 1520. 


This PSAT test is specifically designed for grade 11 students. However, there are no restrictions, so students from Grade 10 can also attempt this test. The PSAT NMSQT is conducted every year during the Fall. 

Scoring high marks in the PSAT NMSQT gives students a competitive advantage as they qualify for the national scholarship merit. The duration for this test is also 2 hours 45 minutes, and the scores range between 320 and 1520. 

Importance of the PSAT Exam

While it is true that the PSAT is a preliminary version of the SAT, taking the exam offers a host of benefits that will only be advantageous to the student in the long run. Listed below are some top reasons why students should take the PSAT exam –

  • It enables students to get familiar with the SAT question type and pattern.
  • A high PSAT score makes a student eligible for the National Merit Scholarship program.
  • Taking the PSAT is a much-needed practice for SAT and may even improve SAT performance. 
  • The SAT test can make students anxious, but the preliminary version takes off some of that anxiety by familiarizing students with the test environment.
  • Students can learn from their mistakes on the PSAT and prepare accordingly for the SAT exam

Sections of PSAT with Syllabus 

 Let's understand in detail what goes into each section of the PSAT test –

Reading Test

This test is conducted for 60 minutes and consists of a passage that students need to analyze and answer related questions. 

These questions span different areas, such as social sciences, literature, natural sciences, and historical documents. The reading section tests comprehension skills, analytical abilities, and vocabulary. 

Writing/Language Test

The second section of the PSAT examination is conducted for 35 minutes. The passages may contain arguments for or against a topic. The topics span humanities, sciences, history, social studies, and careers. 

This section assesses a student's grammar skills like editing, proofreading, and vocabulary. 

Math Test

Conducted for the longest duration – 70 minutes – this PSAT test consists of multiple-choice and 'in-grid' questions. The latter are student-response focused. 

 Questions are asked from geometry, trigonometry, and Algebra I and II. 


The primary purpose of the PSAT examination is to prepare high school juniors and sophomores for the SAT examination. 

However, students must prepare well and maintain regular practice. Utilizing prep courses, answering mock tests through sample papers, and monitoring progress will ensure a high score in the PSAT exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is PSAT mandatory?

No, students are never compelled to take the PSAT examination. The same will not affect admissions in US colleges. However, it does give students a competitive edge as they qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program. 

How many times can we take the PSAT exam?

There are no rigid restrictions on the number of times a student may appear for the PSAT examination. The only thing to remember is that the examination is conducted only once a year. Students may appear consecutively in grades 9, 10, and 11 if they want to. 

What is the difference between PSAT and SAT?

Most students understand what is PSAT test is but often misunderstand it for the SAT examination. The two are not the same. While the SAT test is used to test a student's readiness for college admissions, the PSAT only acts as a primer to the SAT. 

Who are eligible to take PSAT exam?

High school juniors usually take PSAT, but there are no hard and fast rules. Students in the freshmen and sophomore categories can take the examination to get a feel for the SAT.

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.