The SAT is a standardized college entrance exam for college-bound high school students. Undergraduate admissions offices often use SAT scores as a determination of an applicant’s college readiness. Students can opt to sign up for official SAT exams that are offered by College Board at various times throughout the year. The PSAT is the “preliminary” or practice version of the exam and in the U.S., it is administered by school officials between two to three times throughout high school via three versions: PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and the PSAT/NMSQT. While the PSAT exams may not be mandatory, it is highly recommended students take them to get sufficient practice should they plan on taking the official SAT down the road. Starting in Fall 2023, the PSAT will only be offered in a digital format and the SAT will transition to digital in Spring 2024. Please read here for more information. 

Major Differences

Content. There are differences in content between the PSAT and the SAT, especially in the math section, because College Board takes into account differences in subject knowledge students learn throughout high school. Students can expect to see more advanced math topics as they progress through versions of the PSAT and when they take the SAT. 

Time Length and Number of Questions. The new PSAT & SAT digital versions will both be 134 minutes long and have a total of 98 questions. The outgoing paper/pencil version of the SAT is 180 minutes long and has 154 questions.

Scoring. PSAT is scored on a range from 320 to 1520 (160 to 760 points per section); SAT scores range from 400 to 1600 (200 to 800 points per section). Students can refer to their PSAT score percentile to compare what their SAT score would be for the same percentile.

PSAT Types

PSAT 8/9 

This is intended for eighth and ninth graders – it is a low-stakes exam, as colleges and universities will not see or request these scores. It’s used to help identify areas of study that students may need to work on.


This is intended for tenth graders – and it is also a low-stakes exam. Colleges and universities will not see or request these scores. The PSAT 10 is used to help students become familiar with the types of questions they will see on the SAT and to get a sense of how they might perform on the PSAT/NMSQT.


The third version of the PSAT that students typically take during junior year of high school is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Students will need to take this version of the exam to enter into the running for the National Merit Scholarship program, an academic competition for recognition and college scholarships. Their score must be ranked in the top 50,000 of all test-takers to advance in the competition. 

In September of senior year, two-thirds of this group are Commended – meaning they will be formally acknowledged for their achievement, but they unfortunately won’t advance in the competition. Commended students, however, may still be eligible for some special scholarships provided by corporate or business sponsors. The remaining one-third will move on as Semifinalists – belonging to the highest scorers in each state. Semifinalists will be asked to complete scholarship application materials that will be used by College Board to further assess their merit. Finalists are announced during the spring of their senior year, and are eligible to receive National Merit scholarships and special scholarships of various amounts awarded by College Board, corporate sponsors, and/or college sponsors.

About the author
Obi Eneh

Obi has a BA in psychology and Asian studies, as well as an MPA, from Clark University. Additionally, Obi received an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, focusing on international educational development. Obi worked as an admissions reader at Johns Hopkins University and an admissions consultant for EducationUSA.

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