Each year, over 3.5 million high school students take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, also known as the PSAT. This test is a good indicator of how you'll perform on the SAT, while determining your eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship.

The PSAT gives you an opportunity to understand the standardized test experience. Your scores will not be sent to colleges and do not impact your high school grades. You should still take this test seriously: PSAT scores determine your eligibility for National Merit Scholarships.

Understanding the PSAT

Most students take the PSAT at their high school in the fall of their sophomore or junior year. Ask a teacher or school counselor when the test will be offered at your school and how to sign up. Check upcoming PSAT dates.

Many students do not prepare for the PSAT. If you choose to do some PSAT prep, you will gain a significant advantage over your peers. In fact, the best way to prepare for the PSAT is to prep for the SAT.

National Merit Scholarships

Winning a National Merit Scholarship is no easy task. Each year, approximately 50,000 students (out of 1.4 million juniors) qualify for recognition based on their high PSAT score. Around 34,000 of these students receive Letters of Commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. While these letters don't include a scholarship check, they look good to admissions offices and can be listed on your college application.

The remaining 16,000 students or so—those whose scores put them in the top 99th percentile in their state—become National Merit Semifinalists. Of these, around half win scholarships after submitting their high school records, as well as recommendations from teachers and a personal essay. Some students win a $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Corporation, while others may win larger awards from colleges hoping to attract top scorers.

Do I Need to Take the PSAT?

Even if you do not ultimately qualify for a scholarship, taking (and prepping for) the PSAT has several benefits.

  1. The PSAT is great practice for the SAT. Both require you to use your critical thinking skills to answer multiple–choice questions within a fixed amount of time. The more comfortable you are with this format, the better your SAT scores will be.
  2. Your PSAT results can give you a general idea of how well you'll do on the SAT. This will help you identify test skills and knowledge areas where you need extra practice.
  3. You can prep efficiently for both the PSAT and the SAT. The tests are almost identical, so you can use your SAT prep to help you excel on the PSAT. Now for a limited time, get our PSAT prep (a $299 value) for free when you enroll in a comprehensive SAT course or tutoring program. Learn more today.