Two of the first standardized tests students take in high school are the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10. In essence, these tests are the same thing but taken during different times of the year and allow students to qualify for different scholarships.

The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 test measure students’ writing, reading, and math skills, but also allow students to get a glimpse of the skills and knowledge they will need for college.

Serve as Practice Tests for the SAT

The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 are practice exams for the SAT, which is one of two standardized exams required by colleges for admission. What you see in these tests, you can expect to find in the SAT.


The 2019-20 tests cost schools $17 for each student—but you might not pay that much. Some schools cover all or part of the cost for their students. For details, ask your counselor.

So what’s the difference?


  • Who: Second and third year students
  • Where: At school
  • When: The PSAT/NMSQT is offered in the fall.
  • Scholarships: Used by scholarship programs, including the National Merit® Scholarship Program, to look for eligible students.


  • Who: 10th graders
  • Where: At school
  • When: The PSAT 10 is offered in the spring.
  • Scholarships: Used by scholarship programs to look for eligible students, but not considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

What to Expect

There are four sections in the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10.

  1. Reading
  2. Writing and Language
  3. Math- No Calculator
  4. Math- Calculator


The Reading Test, which is the first section, contains all multiple choice questions that are based on passages. This test is designed to test your ability to read passages and comprehend such passages. Some questions ask you to locate a piece of information or an idea stated directly. But you’ll also need to understand what the author’s words imply. In other words, you have to read between the lines.

Writing and Language

The Writing and Language Test is designed for students read sentences within passages and address the mistakes, if any, in these sentences and fix them. Sometimes, you’ll need to look closely at a single sentence and decide if it is in the right section of a paragraph. Like the Reading test, all questions are multiple choice.


The Math section of the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 is divided into two portions: Calculator and No Calculator. Both portions will be for the most part multiple choice, but there are some questions known as “grid-ins” where you have write an answer.

A lot of you may be worried most about this section because of the no calculator test and the types of questions being asked. Don’t worry, there are three main areas of math where most of the questions will be drawn from:

  • Heart of Algebra, which focuses on the mastery of linear equations and systems.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis, which is about being quantitatively literate.
  • Passport to Advanced Math, which features questions that require the manipulation of complex equations.

The Math Test also draws on Additional Topics in Math, including the geometry and trigonometry most relevant to college and career readiness.

Practice for the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10

College Board National Recognition Programs

As discussed earlier, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 are not only practice exams for the SAT, but depending on how well you score, you could qualify for special recognitions.

According to College Board, starting in fall 2019, if you take the PSAT/NMSQT and you’re African American, Hispanic American or Latinx, Indigenous, attend school in a rural area, or are from a small town, you may be invited to apply for academic recognition as part of the College Board National Recognition Programs.

Who qualifies as Hispanic?

The Hispanic Recognition Program considers students who identify as Hispanic or Latinx and are from the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and/or attend school abroad.

Why is this beneficial for me?

While this doesn’t automatically provide you with scholarships, this is a prestigious academic recognition that you put on scholarship applications and increase your chances on earning those scholarships.


  • October of junior year: Take the PSAT/NMSQT and check your identified category on your answer sheet.
  • February–March: The College Board National Recognition Programs will send eligible students an invitation to apply online.
  • Spring: Work with your school to submit a form confirming your ethnicity and your cumulative GPA.
  • July 1: Application deadline. This deadline will not be extended.
  • September of senior year: Awards will be sent to your high school. You must be enrolled as a senior to receive recognition. You will also be notified via email.