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PSAT vs SAT – Complete Guide

Aug 19, 2021

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 and 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 class 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 graduates. 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 Type Grades
PSAT 8/9 8th and 9th
PSAT 10 10th
PSAT/NMSQT 10th and 11th
SAT Anyone, 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 PSAT and SAT are very similar but not completely identical. The content of both PSAT and SATs 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 the tests have grid-in and MCQ questions and the grid-in questions for both the 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.


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 test 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.

PSAT vs SAT – 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 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 PSAT and SAT.

Test Section Time No. Of Questions Time per Question





Reading 60 minutes 48 75 seconds
Writing 35 minutes 44 48 seconds
Math (No Calculator) 25 minutes 17 88 seconds
Math (Calculator) 45 minutes 31 87 seconds
Total 165 minutes 139





Reading 65 minutes 52 75 seconds
Writing 35 minutes 44 48 seconds
Math (No Calculator) 25 minutes 20 75 seconds
Math (Calculator) 55 minutes 38 87 seconds
Total 180 minutes 154

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 centers.

● PSAT vs SAT Testing Locations

You can appear for SAT at any testing centers around the US or the world applicable from the list while registering for the test. The PSAT since administered by the schools, 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 center. 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 and 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 and Language, and Math test. 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
Purpose Practice for SAT and National Merit-Based Scholarship College admissions
Frequency Once a year 7 times a year
Timing 2 hours 45 minutes 3 hours
Testing Locations Your middle or high school Any test location in the US or the world
Registrations Through your school Individually through the college board’s official website
Costs Free of cost if the school covers it, otherwise typically $16 Approximately $52
Scoring Score 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 the best if you combine PSAT and SAT. It will provide you 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 and 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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