• Robin Glembotzky

PSAT and National Merit Scholarship

Most folks know that these two items are connected. But exactly how is the question I get from many parents. Let's take a look at each item.

First off, there is more than one "PSAT". I know you're thinking, "What??? There is?"

Yes, the PSAT 10 is taken by students in their sophomore year. The PSAT/NMSQT is given to students in their junior year. Let's compare them.

First, the PSAT 10. It is, exactly, what it says, a "pre" SAT exam. Since it is designed for sophomores, it is not as difficult as the actual SAT. It has fewer questions than the SAT. It is offered in the Spring, and school districts have flexibility on dates. For the year 2020, those dates are between Feb 24th-March 27th or April 14th-30th.

Now the PSAT/NMSQT. It is, also, a "pre". But, since it is designed for juniors, the questions are a little more difficult. It is, only, offered in October. However, there are three dates that school districts can choose from. The primary date, usually in the middle of October. This year, it will be Oct 16th. Two alternate dates. One a Saturday, this year, October 19th, and the other being October 30th.

Let's compare both exams to the actual SAT.

I did not include the Essay section for one reason. You don't take it on the PSAT 10 or the PSAT/NMSQT! And this blog is about those exams.

Now, let's look at each section.


If you lined up the reading passages from the PSAT 10, then the PSAT/NMSQT and then the SAT, you'd see a trend. The College Board expects students to increase their understanding of the reading passages, as they progress through high school. So, the reading questions get a little more complex from the PSAT exams heading into the SAT exam. But nothing out of the ordinary. One of the biggest suggestions I give all my tutoring students is to read. Even if it's 15 mins per day. Read. Stretch your mind. When you sit down to take the SAT and open the exam to the Reading section, you'll be thankful for having put in the time.


Again, both the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT test the skills you have acquired during your high school education. The difference between these exams and the actual SAT is the complexity of the questions. Whereas the PSAT will ask you about using a colon with a list. The SAT will ask about semicolon use. Subtle but slightly more involved. Both exams will ask you to edit complex sentences, but the SAT will increase the length of the sentences and add clauses.


As we go from the PSAT 10 to the PSAT/NMSQT to the SAT, the math becomes more involved. On the PSAT 10 exam, you will find problems that require one or two steps to find the solution. The PSAT/NMSQT will require two or more steps to solve problems. Whereas the SAT emphasizes multi-step problems. Geometry, on the PSAT exams, looks at simple geometric concepts. Then on the SAT you will be asked to demonstrate more advanced geometric reasoning. The key to all math is to make sure you have a solid base. Don't skimp on learning the basics. It will catch up with you.

But you didn't just want to find out the differences between the exams, right? You also wanted to know how the National Merit Scholarship factors into this equation. First, what is the National Merit Scholarship?

It's exactly what it says, a scholarship for you to use toward your future education. Now, the connection between the exams, we've been talking about, and National Merit is the PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT 10 will NOT help you with the National Merit Scholarship. Many people just figure it's the PSAT, and there is no difference between the exams, but this is a huge distinction. The National Merit Scholarship can offer you $2,500 toward your schooling. While that may not seem like much, in the grand scheme of college expenses, having something to help is always a plus. Cut off scores to be eligible for the scholarship vary by State. Scores vary because it's based on the number of Juniors in each State. So, let's sum up.

So, is it worth it? Of course! Any money you can put towards your education is worth it. How do you prepare for the PSAT? Just the same as preparing for any test. Make a plan, find the areas you're weak in, and work on them. Remember, the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are preparing you for the SAT. And while there are schools that are going SAT/ACT optional, there are still many who require a score. Spending the time to prepare for these exams will be worth it. But, what if you miss the cutoff score? If you miss out on the National Merit Scholarship, don't despair. There are other scholarships. After all, your ultimate goal is to achieve the SAT score to get you into your dream school. Just take your PSAT/NMSQT results and make a plan to blow away the SAT!