Q: What is the PSAT?

A: The PSAT is two things. First, it’s a practice SAT featuring very similar content (technically, it stands for “Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test”). More on the content below. Second, it’s an opportunity for high school juniors to qualify for scholarships and awards.

Q: Is the PSAT different from the NMSQT?

A: Nope, those names refer to the same test! NMSQT stands for “National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.” By taking the test when you’re a junior in high school, you automatically have a chance to earn certain types of scholarships and awards. Check them out here.

Q: What’s on the test?

A: Like the SAT, the PSAT includes sections on critical reading (two 25-minute sections), math (two 25-minute sections), and writing (one 30-minute section). Note that the writing section includes only specific questions on writing skills, and, unlike the SAT, does not include an essay question. Sorry, essay-lovers.

Q: That’s nice and all, but I still don’t understand why I should take it.

A: In addition to possibly winning a scholarship, one huge benefit of taking the PSAT is figuring out which areas you need to focus on for the impending SAT. Plus, the experience of preparing for and taking a standardized test that won’t affect your chances of college admission is itself really valuable.

Q: How do I prepare for the PSAT?

A: The same way you’d prepare for the SAT. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to treat them as though they were the same test. Start prepping for the SAT the summer before your junior year, and the PSAT will be a great realistic practice experience along the way to your SAT test date. You can see here for the CollegeBoard’s prep materials.

Q: OK, I’m sold—when and where can I take the PSAT? Thanks so much for all the info, by the way. I really appreciate it.

A: Of course! It’s what we do. This year’s PSAT test dates have already passed, but you should be able to find the test dates for 2014 on this website.

If your school does not offer the test, scroll to the end of this page to find a test site near you!