PSAT to SAT: The Differences Between The Two

The PSAT and the SAT are two different standardized tests offered by the College Board. Both tests may be fundamentally similar but they are not the same. There are several minor and major differences between the two that it’s important to be aware of.

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Purpose of the PSAT and SAT

The PSAT is not a part of the college application process. This test serves two different purposes. Because the two tests are similar in many ways, the PSAT acts as a preparatory test for the SAT. Taking the PSAT is one way students can prepare for the SAT without any pressure. The PSAT is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. This is only applicable to students who take the test in their junior year. Students can take only one PSAT test a year, generally in the 9th to 11th grade.

The SAT plays a major role in the college application process. Most colleges use this standardized test to measure the applicants’ readiness for college and to compare similar applicants. Your SAT score will have a big impact on which college you get accepted into. It will also affect the amount of merit aid you are offered by each college. Fortunately, you can take the SAT multiple times a year to try and improve your scores. This can get expensive though as you have to pay for every SAT test you take.

The Test Structure

Both tests are structured mostly the same way but with a few differences. The PSAT and the SAT both have a math component and a reading/writing component. Both tests cover the same areas and have the same types of questions. However, unlike the SAT, the PSAT doesn’t offer an optional essay.

The PSAT is primarily aimed at lowerclassmen, and the questions reflect this. They are grade-appropriate for the 9th to 11th grades. The questions in the SAT are grade-appropriate for 12th graders.

The score range for the PSAT is 320 – 1520, for the SAT it is 400 – 1600.

Test Length and Time

The SAT is the longer of the two. It’s about 15 minutes longer even if you choose not to work on the optional essay.

Scoring The Tests

Because the tests are both so similar, you can use your PSAT score to determine your expected SAT.

For example, if your PSAT score is 1300, you can expect around the same score on the SAT as well. This is not a foolproof method of predetermining your SAT score but you can use this knowledge to your advantage. You can analyze your PSAT scores to determine which areas you need to focus more on to improve your SAT performance. In the end, these are the scores that matter for your college admissions.

Take Both Tests!

If you intend to take the SAT, it’s ideal to take the PSAT first. Not only will you get ample practice for the SAT, but you can also enter to become a National Merit Scholar too. A win-win. So study up, students.

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