SAT vs PSAT: What’s the difference?

You’ve heard of the SAT before, but what’s the PSAT? Bolt has you covered.

The Basics

  • The PSAT, officially known as the PSAT/NMSQT is pretty similar to the SAT, except it’s offered in the fall of 10th grade and/or 11th grade. You only take it once, and it’s used to determine your eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship.
  • You take the PSAT (at your school) before the SAT itself, though you may take the SAT at your school or at a test center.
  • Your score on the PSAT is meant to predict what score you would get on the SAT if you were to take it right then.
  • Your score on the PSAT will not be sent to any college, and is not a part of your college application.

What’s the same?

  • Content: The SAT and the PSAT test you on the same exact material, and in the same exact style, too.
  • Structure: The format of the test questions are the same, though the timing is a bit different (more on that later).
  • Scoring Breakdown: The PSAT will split up your test scores into the same sections as the SAT, though the scoring itself is a bit different (again, more on that later).

What’s different?

  • Purpose: The purpose of the SAT is for demonstrating your general intelligence and abilities to colleges you’re applying to, while the PSAT has no effect on your chances of admission. While it’s considered to be a practice SAT, it’s only used to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship, and the colleges you apply to will never see this score.
  • Score Ranges: Here’s where things get a bit tricky. The PSAT is meant to predict your score on the SAT, but the scoring itself is a bit different. You can get a score between 320-1520 on the PSAT, while on the SAT it’s from 400-1600.
    • The individual section scores are different too: While the Evidence Based Reading & Writing and Math sections are scored from 200-800 on the SAT, they’re scored from 160-760 on the PSAT.
  • Timing: The timing you have for each of the sections is a bit different, but overall, you end up having a nearly identical amount of time to answer each individual question per section. Here’s a handy chart to explain it all.
    Test Section Time # of Questions Time per Question
    PSAT Reading 60 minutes 48 75 seconds
    Writing 35 minutes 44 48 seconds
    Math No Calc 25 minutes 17 88 seconds
    Math Calc 45 minutes 31 87 seconds
    Total 165 minutes 139
    SAT Reading 65 minutes 52 75 seconds
    Writing 35 minutes 44 48 seconds
    Math No Calc 25 minutes 20 75 seconds
    Math Calc 55 minutes 38 87 seconds
    Essay (optional) 50 minutes 1 50 minutes
    180 minutes
    (230 minutes with essay)
    (155 with essay)
  • Essay: As you can see in the chart above, the PSAT has no essay, while the SAT has an optional one.

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