PSAT Format and Content Breakdown

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Flickr user Laddir Laddir

For sophomores and juniors, singing up to take the PSAT/NMSQT can be intimidating. For the more serious students, this is a pre-qualifying the National Merit Scholarship and is considered a preliminary version of the SAT.

Here’s what to expect if you’ve chosen to take this exam.

Timed Test

The first thing you need to know is that the PSAT is a timed test. For those whose districts have moved away from timed exams, practice at home by setting a timer and finding practice PSAT questions so you can get used to this type of pressure. You’ll have to take a timed version of the ACT and the SAT too when you take those exams, so now is the time to practice and get ready.

PSAT Sections

There are two main sections of the PSAT: evidence-based reading and writing, and math. These sections are broken down into three sub-sections: reading, writing, and math.

The math section has two timed sections within the same time-frame. One section allows the use of a calculator, and the other section does not allow a calculator.


As of 2015, the PSAT questions are more focused on testing your reasoning skills, as well as knowledge for post-secondary success. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to practice with questions, test mock-ups, and timers to get ready for this type of exam.

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