Familiarize yourself with the PSAT: what is it and why should you take it?

This fall, many rising juniors will have the opportunity to take the PSAT/NMSQT through their schools. At its most basic level, the PSAT is a practice version of the SAT—which means it's a great way for students to get a taste of SAT-style questions and begin figuring out their strengths and areas for improvement. The PSAT is also the qualifying exam for students seeking National Merit Scholarships. While the PSAT can be an important exam for those reasons, students shouldn't let it intimidate them.

Let’s walk through the length, format, and types of questions students will see on the PSAT so that they can feel cool, calm, and collected come test day.


Now that the PSAT is a digital exam, it is the exact same length as the digital SAT, lasting 2 hours and 14 minutes. This time is split up between two sections:

  • Reading and Writing: 64 minutes, 54 questions (split into two modules)
  • Math: 70 minutes, 44 questions (split into two modules)

There is also one break during the test: a ten-minute break after the Reading and Writing section. Therefore, the entire sitting will take students, under standard testing conditions, just under about 2.5 hours.

Format and common question types

Like the digital SAT, the digital PSAT is an adaptive exam that can be taken from a laptop or tablet—either the student's personal device or one provided by their school. Each section begins with an introductory module, and a student's performance on that first set of questions determines the difficulty level of the questions they see in the second module.

The Reading and Writing section tests students' vocabulary knowledge, ability to comprehend and analyze reading passages, mastery of grammatical concepts, and understanding of the rhetorical expression of ideas.

The Math section tests students' mastery of algebra, geometry, data analysis, trigonometry, and other math concepts. Students will answer multiple-choice questions and student-produced response questions.

All in all, the PSAT allows students to demonstrate what they already know and shows students what they can improve upon for the SAT/ACT and college-level work. The College Board itself says the best way students can prepare for this test is to take challenging courses, keep up with homework, and follow other standard school practices students are likely already doing. It’s important for students to take the PSAT seriously, especially if they're interested in qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program, but they should try not to stress about it too much. You’ve got this!

Click here for more details about the content of the first digital PSAT practice test released by the College Board.


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About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erika Anclade

About Erika Anclade

Erika loves education and grew up in a household devoted to its pursuit: her father is a high school science teacher, and her mother works at her elementary school library. Erika scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT, and she was both a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction. Erika enjoys making the test prep process fun while simultaneously challenging students to continue growing.

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