PSAT? SAT? Subject Tests? ACT? Which one do I take and Why? -Part 1

Colleges/Universities require some sort of entrance exam that measures the aptitude and/or knowledge of the incoming student. You have the option of taking the PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and the ACT. How do these tests compare?  Which tests should you take?  To answer those questions you will need a basic understanding of the tests themselves.

Let’s start off with the first one, PSAT/NMSQT:

It is known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), and it is a program co-sponsored by College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

One of the great things about this exam is that it provides firsthand practice for the SAT®. There is even an opportunity to enter the NMSC scholarship programs, which is always a plus! The PSAT/NMSQT measures (from one of our favorite websites–

  • Critical reading skills: Two 25-minute critical reading sections = 48 questions
    • 13 Sentence completions
    • 35 Critical reading questions
  • Math problem-solving skills: Two 25-minute math sections = 38 questions
    • 28 multiple-choice math questions
    • 10 Student-produced responses or grid-ins
    • Students are advised to bring a calculator with which they are comfortable. Students should have basic knowledge of 4 math categories:
      • Numbers and Operation
      • Algebra and Functions (but not 3rd year level math that may appear on the new SAT)
      • Geometry and Measurement
      • Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability
  • Writing skills: One 30-minute writing section = 39 questions
    • 14 Identifying sentence errors
    • 20 Improving sentences
    • 5 Improving paragraph questions

    These multiple-choice questions on writing skills measure a student’s ability to express ideas effectively in standard-written English, to recognize faults in usage and structure, and to use language with sensitivity to meaning.

  • Each of these sections are measured on a scale between 20-80.

By taking the PSAT/NMSQT, you are given feedback about your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for academic success. In addition, you are able to see how you perform on an admissions test in comparison to those who are also applying to college. Another benefit is that you can qualify for scholarships from NMSC (grade 11) based on your scores. Lastly, this exam helps prepare for the SAT. By getting a glimpse of what will be tested and how it’s formatted, you can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT. However, be aware though that the time required to take the PSAT and SAT differ quite a bit, 2-3 hours versus 4–5 hours respectively.

This exam is usually administered in the Fall and on the average usually costs around $14. Certain fees may be added to cover administration fees. Students need to contact their counselor to sign up for the exam. The PSAT/NMSQT can be taken as early as your freshman year of high school and can be taken each year through your junior year. However, it is your junior year scores that will allow you to qualify as a National Merit Scholar during your senior year.

Taking the PSAT/NMSQT definitely has its benefits. And honestly, there really are no disadvantages in taking this test. If you have any questions or want more clarification of this exam, check out the following site:

psat nmsqt

Lastly, be sure to check back with us again because we will cover the logistics behind the SAT next.


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