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PSATs—What You Need to Know to Prepare!

Are you thinking of applying to a college or university in the United States? If so, it will be helpful for you to know that the PSAT or Preliminary SAT is a test designed by the College Board and administered worldwide between the fall and the spring. Each year, approximately 4.2 million high school students take this test. 8th-grade and 9th-grade students take the PSAT 8/9 while 10th-grade students take the PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10.

This test helps students evaluate their college readiness as well as their progress in their studies. PSATs are important for two reasons: they’re an opportunity to practice before taking the SATs, and they’re a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. Now, unfortunately, this is only awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

That being said, you can still benefit from taking the PSAT as a Canadian student because it puts you on the mailing list for many U.S. colleges and universities. Not only that, but the PSAT can also bolster your application to some selective summer programs you might want to consider.

Below, we delve into everything you need to know to prepare for the PSAT.

What Is the PSAT

PSAT stands for Preliminary Standardized Assessment Test and is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test or NMSQT. This exam is meant to test students’ knowledge and prepare them for taking the SAT before college entrance. Students typically take this test in the 10th or 11th grade before going on to take the SAT.

The PSATs consist of three different categories: reading, writing, and math. With 139 questions in total, students have 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete it -60 minutes for reading, 35 minutes for writing, and 70 minutes for math. The majority of questions in the PSATs are multiple-choice and unlike the SAT, this test does not include an essay.

What’s the Difference Between PSAT 8/9 & PSAT 10?

The PSAT 8/9 is designed for students in the 8th and 9th grades, while the PSAT 10 is designed for students in the 10th grade. The former is relatively new and is intended to help students plan for college or university. While it is similar to other SAT tests, this exam does not affect students’ college and scholarship applications.

The main goal is to give students insight into the different kinds of questions commonly asked in higher-stakes exams they will have to take in the future. PSAT 8/9 is essentially just a way to practice for PSAT 10 and the SAT since there is no scholarship associated with it.

Moreover, it has a lower score range compared to PSAT 10, with a maximum score of 1440 compared to 1520 in PSAT 10 and 1600 in SAT.

How to Prepare for the PSAT

The key to successful PSAT preparation lies in planning to optimize your study time along with targeting the areas that need improvement and practice.

● Get familiar with the PSAT format

Learning the PSAT format is a great place to get started, even if you don’t intend to apply for National Merit. As we’ve already established, the PSAT has a similar structure to the SAT but contains fewer questions and no essay component. You can find what’s on it in more detail here.

● Make a study plan

Now that you’re familiar with the test format, you should create a study plan to make the most of your time before taking the test. Determine when you will be taking it, and set aside specific time blocks to practice and work on the areas you need to improve.

Set goals to improve your skills

Your goals should be as specific as possible. For example, instead of aiming to achieve a higher score in Math, set a goal to answer more Geometry questions by practicing for an hour every day or every other day.


If you want to do well on your PSAT, you should take as many PSAT practice tests as you can. These are the best resources available to you that will make a tremendous difference in your scoring and test readiness. You can find official PSAT practice tests here and here. This is a great way to track your progress and improve your baseline score.

Even if the PSAT score you get does not play a hand in your U.S. college admissions decisions, you should still put in the effort and prep for this test. This will help you feel more comfortable about the exam-taking process. It will also allow you to feel more prepared for more important tests so you can maximize your chances of success.

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