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Last updated September 21, 2023

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3 Reasons Why You Should Take the PSAT

Key Takeaway

You should consider taking the PSAT because it can help you practice for the SAT, learn what you need to focus your SAT prep on, and potentially qualify for a National Merit Scholar award. 

Ah—the beginning of your sophomore or junior year. Fresh pencils, clean sheets of paper, maybe even a new backpack.

But looming behind all the back-to-school excitement is one test. Four letters: the PSAT.

Also known as the Preliminary SAT, the PSAT is a test (often optional) you can take to help you prepare for the real-deal SAT.

So should you take it? Is it actually worth all the time and stress?

Let's break it down.

What is the PSAT?

Officially known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), the PSAT is a standardized exam administered by the College Board. It's typically taken in 11th grade, but some students opt to take it as early as 9th or 10th grade.

The PSAT acts as a warm-up for the SAT. It gives you a chance to practice the types of questions and the format you’ll see on the SAT.

The PSAT has three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.

Do I have to take the PSAT?

Whether or not you have to take the PSAT depends on your high school. Many schools require their students to take the PSAT. If it’s required, your school will likely schedule it during the school day in the fall. In this case, you may not have much of a say.

But if your school doesn't automatically sign you up for the PSAT, you'll need to make a choice.

Why should I take the PSAT?

There are three main reasons to take the PSAT.

First, it's a great practice round for the SAT. It's like a rehearsal before the big show. While the PSAT isn't an exact replica of the SAT, it gives you a real taste of what the SAT is like. Standardized test-taking can be really hard, especially if you’ve never done one before. By taking the PSAT, you can get to understand the timing, the structure, and the kind of questions you might face.

Taking the PSAT also gives you a sneak peek into how you might do on standardized tests. Since it’s a lot like the regular SAT, your PSAT score will show you where your strengths and weaknesses.

Learning where you need to improve on the PSAT can guide your test prep strategy for the SAT or ACT. If you perform well on the PSAT, you might decide to study on your own. But if your score isn't where you want it to be, you might opt to get a tutor or take a test prep course.

Finally, and possibly more importantly, doing well on the PSAT can qualify you for certain merit scholarships.

The most popular of these is the National Merit Scholarship. If you score within the top 1% of test-takers, you might become a semifinalist. From there, you'll have to meet additional requirements, but the potential financial benefits could be significant. For one, colleges and universities like seeing National Merit Scholars, so the award could give your application a small boost. And when it comes to paying for college, any extra financial aid you can get helps.

These three reasons make the PSAT worth considering.

The only downsides might be the time and potential stress that any exam brings. But remember, taking the PSAT doesn't influence your college applications or your SAT score, so there's not a lot of risk involved.

Yeah, it probably won’t be the most fun morning or afternoon of your life, but you’ll be better afterward for having practiced.


The PSAT is a “practice” version of the SAT that you might take in your high school years. Many schools make it mandatory, but even if yours doesn't, there are good reasons to consider taking it. The PSAT can be a practice round for the SAT, which can help you decide on your test prep strategy. High scores can get you in the running for merit scholarships, like the National Merit Scholarship. The only potential downside is the stress and time associated with taking a test, but the potential benefits definitely make it worthwhile.

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