The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) was first introduced in 1959 as the PSAT. In the 1970s, through a partnership between the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the PSAT was changed into the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The PSAT/NMSQT serves two purposes:
1. As the preliminary SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT provides a student with a means to become familiar with the format of the SAT Reasoning Test in an actual test environment while also providing feedback, through the score, on areas for focus for SAT prep.
2. It is the qualifying test allowing students to compete for National Merit Scholarships.
Format of the PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT is not as long or rigorous as the SAT Reasoning Test. The PSAT/NMSQT is 2 hours and 10 minutes in length. Like the SAT Reasoning Test, it is divided into three sections:
1. Critical Reading - this is a 50 minute section
2. Math- this is a 50 minute section
3. Writing - this is a 30 minute section
Most of the questions on the PSAT/NMSQT are multiple choice. There are some "student-produced response" or grid-in questions in the math section. In grid-in questions a student must write their answer in the supplied grid. There is no student-written essay on the PSAT/NMSQT as there is on the SAT Reasoning Test.
The PSAT/NMSQT Score
As with the SAT Reasoning Test, three scores are delivered for the PSAT/NMSQT, one each for the Critical Reading, Math, and Writing sections. Unlike the SAT Reasoning Test, the scores are on a 20 to 80 scale, and there are no sub scores for the writing section. In addition, a "Selection Index", which is simply the addition of the three scores, is also reported. The Selection Index is used in the National Merit Scholarship qualifying process.
Typically, a student's high school will deliver their PSAT/NMSQT scores to them.
When to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
A student should plan on taking the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of their junior year. Students must take the test in the fall of their junior year to potentially qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition. Many students first take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of their sophomore year. Students who take the test in their sophomore year do not qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition and must retake the test in the fall of their junior year to compete.
Where to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT is not given in test centers as is the SAT Reasoning Test. It is given at a student's high school or other school in their community. Students should check with their school's guidance counselor for test dates, times, and locations.
National Merit Scholarship Notification
Notification of qualification as a "Commended Student" or National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist happens automatically in September of a student's senior year. A student's school will notify them.