The SAT and the PSAT are pretty similar exams. In fact, the PSAT is part of how your student can prepare for the SAT. However, when you compare the PSAT vs. SAT, you’ll see some very important differences.
Understanding the purpose of these two tests and how they are used in your student’s academic career is an important part of preparing your child for college. Let’s take a look at key differences now!
PSAT vs. SAT: Purpose
The PSAT and SAT are similar but serve very different purposes.
The purpose of the SAT is pretty simple. The SAT is a standardized test that is intended to measure a high school student’s readiness for college. It gives colleges and universities a common data point that they can use to compare similar students.
The SAT score your child receives will have a big impact on what colleges they are able to gain admission to, and what merit aid they will be offered at those schools.
Your student can take the SAT multiple times to try to get better scores, but they will have to pay for the exam each time. However, it’s better to prepare well and take the test once or twice than to take it over and over hoping something will change.
The PSAT has two purposes. One, it helps students prepare for the SAT using an exam that is substantially similar, but without the pressure to “do or die.” The PSAT is not used for college admissions, but it gives students a good idea how well they’ll do on the SAT.
The PSAT taken during the junior year of high school is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, which is why the full name of the exam is PSAT/NMSQT.
The PSAT can only be taken once per year, generally in 9th – 11th grade.
Content in the PSAT vs. SAT
The content in the PSAT is structured the same as the SAT. There’s a reading/writing component and a math component.
However, the PSAT is about 15 minutes shorter. Because it’s intended for juniors, some of the questions are grade-appropriate for 11th grade rather than the SAT which is aimed a 12th graders.
You’ll notice that the PSAT score range is 320 – 1520, while the SAT score range is 400 – 1600.
The PSAT is an excellent preparation for the SAT because it has the same types of questions and covers the same areas. When you prepare for reading and writing for the PSAT, for instance, you’re covering the same material that will help you do well on the SAT.
PSAT to SAT Conversion
The PSAT and SAT are so similar that you can read your PSAT score as equivalent to your expected SAT. In other words, if you got a 1400, you can expect around a 1400 on the SAT too.
Of course, if your score is extremely high, you can expect it to match a higher SAT score. For instance, if you get the maximum of a 1520 on the PSAT, you may be able to reach the maximum of 1600 on the SAT.
If you aren’t happy with your PSAT score, don’t despair! You have plenty of time to do test prep for the SAT and improve your results. You’re not locked into that exact score – it’s just a record of where you stand on that particular day.
Preparing for the PSAT and SAT
The good news when it comes to looking at the PSAT vs. SAT is that the preparation is the same for both exams.
If you feel that your student is capable of getting a high enough score to qualify as a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist, it pays to put a lot of work into preparing for the junior-year PSAT. All of that work will carry over when it’s time to take the SAT as well, since the same subject areas are tested in much the same way.
If the junior year PSAT didn’t go well, there’s still a lot of time to get ready for a better score on the SAT. Your student can take advantage of study guide books, online programs, and paid test prep tutoring. Before you choose what to invest in, be sure to ask for recommendations from those whose students did well.
Members of our Paying For College 101 Facebook group recommended the following resources that their students had success with….
Choose the Right School For Your Family
Testing and preparation are only part of the picture when it comes to getting your child into the right college. You also want to find colleges and universities that are generous with merit aid. Sometimes even being a National Merit Semifinalist can open doors!
If you’re interested in which schools can give the most aid for your family, we’re here to help. Check out our College Data Spreadsheet today to find the colleges most generous with merit scholarships!
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