Why Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

What’s the PSAT/NMSQT?

Full Name: (Inhale) Preliminary Standardized Achievement Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

Abbreviation: PSAT

Nickname:  Mini-T or Psssst-At or the Prickly Mosquito

Deets: The first big test high school students take before tackling the SAT or ACT (tests needed to gain entrance to American colleges).

Dates: PSAT will be administered on Oct 13, 2010 and Oct. 16, 2010

Street Cred: Gives you practice for the SAT or ACT exams; qualifies you for bigtime college scholarships

Game Time: Typically, you’ll meet this beast in the sophomore or junior year of high school.

Good News: You already have all the skills you need to dominate this test; you’ve been training your whole life for it, you just didn’t know it.

Bad News:  The PSAT is a test.  That means it might try to trick you or challenge you, figure out what your brain can and can’t do.  It contains some intentionally difficult questions.

Shmoop’s Way:  We’ll help you understand what the test wants you to do.  We’ll show you the blueprints, train you like a ninja.  Attack, dominate, and take no prisoners.

What IS this PSAT/NMSQT You Speak of?

Sounding suspiciously like the name of a lethal insect, the PSAT is in fact a friendly test.  Its full name is Preliminary Standardized Achievement Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The “preliminary” part means that students take the test before taking the infamous SAT or ACT. American high school students typically take the PSAT in their sophomore or junior years.  The “qualifying” part means that the score you get from this test can lead to scholarships offered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and other organizations.

To Take the PSAT or Not to Take the PSAT?

A sane person might ask: “Why would I want to take two or three huge exams in my high school years, especially when colleges only require one:  the SAT or ACT?” Well, you certainly have a point, grasshopper. Here’s why you should take the PSAT:

  • The PSAT can qualify you for impossibly sweet scholarship competitions.  Money, money, money to fuel a college education – sweet.
  • The PSAT is excellent practice for the SAT. It’s better to find out now if you happened to forget some mathematical formula or grammar rule that could cost you hundreds of points on the SAT.
  • The PSAT will help you work on pacing. Even if you know the content cold, you could have trouble on the SAT if you’re not a fast test-taker.
  • The PSAT can get colleges to send you fan mail. You decide if you want colleges to have access to your information. This can be a great way to start your hunt for the perfect college.

What’s in the PSAT?

In about two hours and ten minutes, the PSAT tests your critical reading, math, and writing skills.  It includes:

  • Two twenty-five minute critical reading sections
  • Two twenty-five minute math sections
  • One thirty-minute writing section

It is almost entirely multiple-choice based, with some grid-in questions in the math section.  You’ll be doing some careful reading, some sentence completion, some fixing of awkward sentences, and some problem solving. You’ll also improve sentences and paragraphs, making them stronger and mightier one word at a time. YES.  All stuff that you can do in your sleep, if you practice.  Shmoop’s got practice exams and drills all ready for you. Scholarship Time — W00t, W00t!  Here We Come, National Merit Scholarships… When you take the PSAT, you can indicate whether or not you want your scores to be released to certain scholarship programs:

  • The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC)
    • Selects the top PSAT test scorers from a pool of about 1.5 million students who take the test in October of each year.  US citizens and permanent residents enrolled in high school are eligible.
    • The following April, the NMSC refers the students who rocked the PSAT to two colleges or universities of the student’s choice. As the year goes on, the scholarship program continues to whittle down the number of qualifying applicants until it awards a number of different, sweet scholarships in the late winter to late spring of the senior year.
    • About 8,200 Finalists win some kind of scholarship through this competition.
  • National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP)
    • Identifies top Hispanic and Latino high school students who meet a GPA requirement, and shares information about these students with top colleges.
  • National Scholarship Service
    • Offers free college counseling to qualifying students
  • The Telluride Association
    • Offers scholarships for super talented juniors to attend their prestigious summer programs.  Their programs focus on the humanities and social sciences.

Wrap-Up So, friend, now you understand what the PSAT is all about.  If you choose to meet it in battle, Shmoop will be there to arm you with all of the weapons, tools, and skillz you need to conquer the hairy beast and to have fun while you’re at it.  Let the games begin.

Ready to kick PSAT butt and take names? Check out Shmoop’s Online PSAT Prep course.

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