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What Is The PSAT/NMSQT? Why Should You Care?

Oct 4, 2022

If you are here, you have probably heard about the PSAT/NMSQT program and are wondering what exactly those are. Or are you all looking for tips to prepare for the SAT exam? This blog will help you learn everything about the PSAT/NMSQT, including its tests, exam structure, and tips to prepare for them. Please read on! 

What is the NMSQT?

Before learning about ‘what is the NMSQT exam’ in detail, let us look at the full form of the terms. The full form of the PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It is a standardized exam for 10th and 11th-grade students. More than 3.5 million students sit for the PSAT/NMSQT exam every year. Apart from determining the qualification and eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program, the PSAT/NMSQT exam acts as a practice test for the main SAT exam. The PSAT/NMSQT scores can’t be presented as standardized scores to the colleges. 


What are the sections included in the PSAT/NMSQT?

What is the NMSQT exam structure? Recently, the content and structure of the PSAT/NMSQT have been revised to reflect the alterations made to the SAT. The PSAT comprises three sections— Reading, Math, and Language and Writing. The total time assigned for the test is 2 hours 45 mins, and there are 139 questions in total. Below is a more specific breakdown of this information:

Math Section: contains 48 questions, and the time assigned is 70 minutes 


Reading section: contains 47 questions, and the time assigned is 60 minutes 

Writing and Language Section: contains 44 questions, and the time assigned is 35 minutes 


What are the materials covered in these sections? 

Math Section

The main focus of this section is on algebra problems, and it tests the ability of the students to evaluate and interpret data sets. The students are not allowed to use a calculator for the first 25 minutes, but they are allowed to use it for the final 45 minutes of the section. Multiple choice questions are mostly present in the paper, but a few questions tend to have grid-in answers. 

The topics from which questions in this section are asked include:

  • Data Analysis and Problem Analysis
  • Heart of Algebra (systems and linear equations)
  • Additional Topics in Math ( trigonometric and geometric skills)
  • Manipulation of complex equations

Reading Section

This section tests the ability of the students to make inferences and draw conclusions from reading passages. There are 47 questions in total, which are based on two passage pairs ( a passage pair means when a passage is given in combination with a table, chart, graph, or any other passage, and the answer to the question can be derived from both the sources) and three passages. 

The five passage pairs and passages cover the following subjects:

  • Two on Social Studies/History (with 18-20 corresponding questions)
  • One on US/World Literature (with nine corresponding questions)
  • Two on Science (with 18-20 corresponding questions)

 Writing and Language Section

This section tests the student’s knowledge of grammar, punctuation, usage, and other conventions in English. An essay is not included in this section. Instead, it contains four passage pairs/ passages which address topics concerning history/social studies, careers, Science, and humanities. 

In this section, there are two categories of questions:

  • 20 questions related to Standard English Conventions
  • 24 questions related to the Expression of Ideas

How is the scoring for the PSAT/NMSQT done?

What is nmsqt scoring system? Recently, a new scoring system has been implemented by the PSAT/NMSQT. The score range has been changed as of 2015, and marks are no longer deducted for incorrect answers. Although SAT and PSAT/NMSQT share a common score scale, the score ranges are not the same. The total score range for PSAT is 320-1520.

PSAT/NMSQT has two main section scores— the Evidence-based reading and writing score and the Math score. The score range for both of these sections is 160-760. The evidence-based reading and writing score corresponds to that of the Language and writing and reading sections. This means that half of the total PSAT score is constituted by the Math section.


Apart from these, the PSAT also comprises three test scores ranging from 8-38 for each of the three subjects- Math, Language and Writing, and Reading. In addition to these, each of these three sections consists of several subsections which have scores ranging from 1-15. The scoring of subsections helps the students realize their strong and weak areas, so they get to know exactly how much they scored in more specific areas. This helps them to structure their future study plans more effectively.

The following categories have severe subscores:

Math: Heart of Algebra, Data Analysis, and Problem Solving, and Passport to Advanced Math

Reading: Words in Context, Command of Evidence

Writing and Language: Standard English Conventions, Expression of Ideas

What are the advantages of taking the PSAT/NMSQT?

Wondering how taking the PSAT/NMSQT can benefit you? Well, there are three main ways it can help you:

  • Practice for the SAT:

The PSAT/NMSQT test is very similar to the SAT exam. Therefore, this test serves as a practice test for the SAT. The students can get an estimate of the score they can expect in the SAT exam by sitting for it. Also, the scores of the different sections and subsections can help the students understand the weak and strong points of the syllabus so that they can prepare for other exams accordingly. 

  • Practice for other standardized exams in general:

Even though the SAT exam prepares the students more specifically for the PSAT exam, taking it can help them get prepared for other standardized exams as well, such as the ACT. It can help them learn time management skills, enhance their critical thinking skills, and also provide them with an opportunity to find out how well they can perform under official testing conditions.

  • Potential for scholarship money:

In this era of competition, students need to work hard and do well in the exams to earn scholarships. Students with top PSAT scores can earn a good amount of scholarship money. Of almost 1.5 million students who take the test, about the top 50,000 qualify for the scholarship. Of these 50,000 students, around 35,000 become commended scholars. Almost 16,000 students with top PSAT scores become National Merit Semi-Finalists, and around 15,000 of them move on to become National Merit Finalists.

The students with the highest PSAT scores are awarded around $180 million annually. Almost half of the National Merit Finalists get $2,500 National Merit Scholarships that are renewable for up to four years. Scholarship money to these top students is offered by many other corporations as well. Additionally, scholarships are offered to Semi-Finalists, National Merit Commended Scholars, and Finalists as well by many colleges. Some schools even award a tuition waiver to high achieving students, which tends to save them thousands of dollars.

How to sign up for the PSAT/NMSQT?

High schools administer the PSAT test, so students need to register through their schools. The exam is usually held in the October of the junior year. Students can also take the test in their sophomore year, but then they won’t be eligible for the National Merit Awards that year. 


Hope this blog helped you understand ‘what is nmsqt’. If you are someone who is confused about whether they should take the SAT or ACT, taking the PSAT can be helpful for you as you can get an estimate of how well you can perform on the SAT exam. You can get a rough estimate of your SAT scores without you having to worry about it being sent to colleges. The PSAT test can even be taken by juniors who are confident about their standardized test-taking skills and hope to go for scholarships or National Merit recognition or sophomores looking to get more PSAT practice to increase their chances of winning a scholarship.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which students can benefit from the PSAT exam?

A. Multiple groups of students can benefit from taking the PSAT exam, including sophomores in high school or juniors wanting to practice more for the SAT exam under real test conditions. Students who want to practice for other standardized tests can also take the PSAT exam. 

2. What is the PSAT10 test?

The PSAT10 test is offered only for 10th-grade students. It is almost the same as the PSAT but does not form a part of the National Merit Scholarship Program. Rather, it’s only a practice test. Those who sit for the PSAT 10 exam in the spring can still take the PSAT exam in the fall. 

3. Why does the score range of PSAT not go up?

Like SAT, the score range of PSAT does not go up to 1600 because it is a less challenging exam than SAT, and also because a PSAT/NMSQT perfect score does not represent a perfect score on SAT.



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