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PSAT vs SAT: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Key Differences

Sep 28, 2022

The College Board, a non-profit organization with headquarters in the United States, administers both the SAT and the PSAT. Although not identical, both tests are comparable. Let’s examine the parallels and discrepancies between the SAT and PSAT in this article.

PSAT is a general term for a number of tests that the College Board offers. PSAT 8/9 is for kids in grades 8 and 9, PSAT 10 is for students in grades 10, and PSAT/NMSQT is for students in grades 10 or 11 who are preparing for the SAT. We will contrast the SAT with the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT 


PSAT vs SAT- The Heated Debate

“The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.”
– Bobby Knight
The renowned college board assessments – PSAT vs SAT have a lot in common, however, there is a lot of confusion about what it has to offer and how they are different. As similar as they may sound, it becomes important to be aware of the key differences for the right preparation before you sign up for them. So let us dig a little deeper to understand the purpose of SAT and PSAT, the differences between them, and the importance they hold for your academic success.

SAT Suite of Assessments

First, let’s know what SAT Suite of Assessments is and what it constitutes. The SAT Suite of Assessments is offered by the college board and is made up of various tests like the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 8, PSAT 9, and PSAT 10. All these tests serve the overarching goal of parents, teachers, and students monitoring students’ readiness for college. These exams are taken by students from classes 8th to 12th and the students are tested in reading, writing and language, and math skills. Each test caters to a specific audience based on the test-takers grade.


PSAT 8/9 is taken by 8th and 9th-grade students to identify the areas of improvement before becoming a high school graduate. PSAT 10 is identical to PSAT/NMSQT and is offered in spring for 10th-grade students only. The PSAT/NMSQT is offered in the fall for 10th and 11th-grade students to check the students’ skills and scope of improvement.

The PSAT/NMSQT also offers the opportunity for qualifying the National Merit Scholarship to the test taker. SAT is taken to test your college readiness by the schools you are applying for and is the entrance test required to get into the best schools.



SAT Suite of Assessment

Test TypeGrades
PSAT 8/98th and 9th
PSAT 1010th
PSAT/NMSQT10th and 11th
SATAnyone, mostly taken by 11th and 12th

What is Similar in PSAT and SAT?

Before we move on to the differences between the two exams, let’s get on with the similarities that PSAT and SAT share.

  • The content and format of the PSAT and SAT are very similar but not completely identical. The content of both PSAT and SATs is the reading, writing, language, and math skills of the test takers, however, the level might fluctuate a little in the context of the test takers of both exams. The subjects are the same for both and contain questions of algebra and vocab-in-context questions.
  • The test structure is the same for reading, writing and language, and math as the sections. The overall structure with the style of questions and the goal of the exams also don’t have much of a difference. The math section for both tests has grid-in and MCQ questions and the grid-in questions for both tests are towards the end of the math section.
  • In addition to the composite score, the score report for PSAT and SAT provides sub-scores and cross-section scores. The cross-test scores are provided as analysis in history and social studies and analysis in science that is marked based on critical thinking questions throughout the paper. The subscores are however different for each of the sections, for reading the subscores are for the command of evidence and words in context, for writing and language the categories are the expression of ideas and standard English conventions, and for math, they are the heart of algebra, problem-solving and data analysis and passport to advanced math.
  • For both PSAT and SAT, there is no negative marking for incorrectly answered questions.

Summary of PSAT vs SAT

PSAT vs SAT Similarities

●       Content


●       Overall Structure

●       Cross Section Scores and Sub Scores


●       No penalty for incorrect answers

What is the Difference between PSAT and SAT?

Though PSAT and SAT both have structure and content similarities, the exams vary in context to various other factors like the costs, length, scoring ranges, and more. Let’s compare these differences one by one for you to get a better understanding of both tests.

Before we move on to the differences one by one, let us get aware of the names and the meanings of these acronyms. The SAT as an acronym has no meaning today, however, originally it stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test when the test was divided between the main tests and subject tests. After the SAT was redefined in 2016, the elements of the test were dropped off and the exam came to be known as SAT.


PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT but even it has no individual meaning as the PSAT is constituted of various tests such as PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9.

4 Key Differences Between PSAT vs SAT

Similar in content and format, the PSAT and SAT differ significantly from one another in terms of testing frequency, scoring, cost, and difficulty.

1. The SAT Is Offered All Year Long

Although the PSAT can be taken three times in high school, it is only given once a year in October. In contrast, there is no maximum number of times you can take the SAT. Additionally, it is accessible many times in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June each year. 

You must separately register for the SAT on the College Board website, and you’ll often take the test on a weekend. The test is also given at many schools on weekdays. You must register for the PSAT through your school, and you will often take the test in lieu of courses on a school day.

2. The SAT is tougher than the PSAT

Due to the PSAT’s purpose as a practice test, it is a little easier than the SAT. The PSAT serves as a foundational test that introduces students to the SAT’s content and format. 

With fewer questions, the PSAT is also a shorter test. It takes 15 minutes longer on the SAT. 

Reading 60 Minutes 

45 Questions 

65 Minutes 

52 Questions 

Writing and Language 35 minutes
44 questions 
35 minutes
44 questions 
Math — No Calculator 25 minutes
17 questions 
25 minutes
20 questions 
Math — Calculator 45 minutes
31 questions 
55 minutes
38 questions 
Total 2 hours 45 minutes
139 questions 
3 hours
154 questions 

3. The tests have several scoring ranges

The SAT is scored from 400 to 1600, while the PSAT is scored between 320 to 1520. 1250 on the PSAT is equivalent to 1250 on the SAT because PSAT scores are strongly correlated to SAT scores. A perfect score on the PSAT, however, does not equal a perfect score on the SAT because the SAT is more difficult. 

Although the PSAT is intended to predict your SAT scores, it is not a direct equivalent. On the PSAT, a score of 1460 might place you in the 99th percentile, but on the SAT, that same number might place you in the 96th percentile. To place in the same percentile as you did on the PSAT, you’ll typically need to score 50–70 points better on the SAT.

4. SAT Fees Are Higher

The PSAT test costs $18, although the majority of institutions will defray some of the expense. In some schools, students can even take the PSAT at no cost. You can discuss prospective PSAT costs and potential waivers with your school guidance counselor. 

Students will have to pay $55 each time they take the SAT. For students who qualify, there are fee waiver options. There is a $30 late registration fee if you register for the SAT after the deadline. Additionally, there is a $12 cost for each additional score report you need to send to institutions if you need to send more than four. The total cost of taking the SAT may reach $100 or more. 


Its Purpose SAT is a standardized entrance test used for admissions in colleges that tests the student’s readiness for college. It gives colleges a common entry point to compare the student for admissions along with college applications and recommendations.

PSAT is however not required for college admissions, it is more of a precursor to SAT, since the questions and patterns of both exams are somewhat similar, PSAT prepares test takers for SAT. PSAT though not required for college admissions it is a qualifying test for National Merit Scholarship.

Thus a low score on PSAT doesn’t affect college admissions but the SAT score highly impacts college admission. With National Merit Scholarship, you can only enter the competition if you are amongst the top 1% scorers of the PSAT.

PSAT vs SAT – The Frequency

SAT is offered 7 times a year (usually in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June) to students with multiple selecting dates so you can select the date that works the best for you. Additionally, some schools and districts also take part in SAT School Day to provide more options. PSAT is offered once a year in mid-October and is generally administered by schools for their students.

Conclusively, PSAT is offered fewer times than SAT so SAT test-takers have more opportunities to retake the test and raise their score.

PSAT vs SAT Length and Timings- Duration

The number of questions and the amount of time per question is an important factor to consider in the difference between SAT and PSAT. The SAT is offered for a total of 3 hours and PSAT is offered for 15 minutes less than SAT which is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The table below presents a brief overview of the number of questions for each section and the amount of time allocated for them for both the PSAT and SAT.

TestSectionTimeNo. Of QuestionsTime per Question
PSATReading60 minutes4875 seconds
Writing35 minutes4448 seconds
Math (No Calculator)25 minutes1788 seconds
Math (Calculator)45 minutes3187 seconds
Total165 minutes139
SATReading65 minutes5275 seconds
Writing35 minutes4448 seconds
Math (No Calculator)25 minutes2075 seconds
Math (Calculator)55 minutes3887 seconds
Total180 minutes154

This table gives a clear indication that SAT is slightly longer and has more questions as compared to PSAT. However, the amount of time per question is approximately the same except for 13 seconds more per question for Math (No Calculator) in PSAT.

● PSAT vs SAT – Who Can Take The Tests and When?

The PSAT can be taken by 10th and 11th graders and is always administered at school while SAT can be taken by anyone but is mostly taken by 11th and 12th graders and is administered at both schools and test centres.

● PSAT vs SAT Testing Locations

You can appear for SAT at any testing centres around the US or the world applicable from the list while registering for the test. The PSAT since administered by the schools, and the testing location will also generally be your middle school or high school.

● PSAT vs SAT Registrations

You can register for SAT individually through the college board’s official website with your preferred test type, test date, and test centre. If your school takes part in SAT School Day administration, you can register through your school as well. For the PSAT, schools purchase and administer the PSAT assessment so the registrations are also done through your schools.

● PSAT vs SAT Costs

The costs of these tests often get adjusted annually. The cost for SAT is approximately $52 and the PSAT is billed to schools at a certain fee per student many schools cover all or part of the costs for PSAT-appearing students. The typical cost for PSAT is however $16 a test. The costs may vary according to the additional charges for late/special registrations and international students.

● PSAT vs SAT Scoring

PSAT – The highest possible score you can achieve on PSAT is 1520 and the PSAT score range is from 320 – to 1520. The composite score is the total of two sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. The score range of each section is 160 – 760. The section scores are scaled from raw scores out of 38 for three tests: Reading, Writing, and Language and Math. The PSAT scores are sent to the schools that can send the scores to parents, and the students can check their PSAT scores on the student score portal online. Since PSAT is the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarship, the scores are also sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

SAT – The score range for SAT is 200 – 600. The total score is the sum of two sections (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math) each having a score range of 200-600. The section scores are calculated from raw scores out of 40 on the Reading, Writing Language, and Math tests. The college board sends the SAT score to the 4 preferred colleges and schools that the applicant chooses while registering for the test. The test taker can also opt for more score reports with additional charges.


PSAT vs SAT Differences
PurposePractice for SAT and National Merit-Based ScholarshipCollege admissions
FrequencyOnce a year7 times a year
Timing2 hours 45 minutes3 hours
Testing LocationsYour middle or high schoolAny test location in the US or the world
RegistrationsThrough your schoolIndividually through the college board’s official website
CostsFree of cost if the school covers it, otherwise typically $16Approximately $52
ScoringScore Range: 320 – 1520
Section Score Range: 160 – 760
Score Range: 400 – 1600

Section Score Range: 200 – 800


The SAT and ACT are the standardized tests for entrance to colleges and PSAT is a practice test for SAT. While the structure and type of questions are mostly similar for PSAT and SAT, it differs for ACT with their emphasis on the English section and the additional science section.

Combining PSAT vs SAT

The final aim for the student is to get into a top college and that can work best if you combine PSAT and SAT. It will provide you with multiple benefits since the structure and type of questions for both exams are the same.
● More efficient preparation for SAT – When you give the PSAT you have a proper run-through and you can identify the weakness to overcome them.
● The extra practice for SAT through PSAT will give you a real-time experience and boost your confidence.


Set the right goals for you and prepare well whether it is for PSAT, SAT, or both. Be familiar with the requirements for preparation on the day that aligns with your goal and the best way is to practice before going in for the real thing.



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