The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, is a test administered by the College Board, sponsor of the SAT, that most students take in October or November during their junior year of high school, and possibly during freshmen or sophomore year. The PSAT is very similar to the SAT in terms of content and skills measured, although it’s a little simpler. The main purpose of the PSAT is to help students get an assessment of their SAT readiness and college readiness.
The PSAT is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, one of the more prestigious scholarships in the United States. (For this reason, the PSAT is also sometimes called The National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.) This exam is offered every October and can only be taken once per year.
There are no age restrictions on taking the PSAT. However, since the PSAT is a college preparatory exam and university scholarship qualifier, it makes the most sense to take it in high school. Exactly when should you take it in high school? There’s no one correct answer to that question.
Some ambitious students begin preparing for the SAT in their very first year of high school. If you want to get an early start on your SAT prep, the PSAT can be an appealing first step. It can give you a feel for the SAT exam and help you know what skills you’ll need to work on the most in the coming years. As a tool to measure aptitude in the SAT and progress towards a specific SAT target score, it can make sense to continue taking the PSAT every year as a form of continued practice and self-assessment.
For aspiring national Merit Scholarship winners, qualifying PSAT scores are only taken from third-year high school PSAT scores. So PSATs must be taken junior year of high school for the purposes of the scholarship. If you’re planning to apply for the National Merit Scholarship, it can still be helpful to do a practice run in your sophomore year (and maybe freshman year as well) to see how close you’re getting to the score you’ll need when you apply for Merit as a junior.
Your senior year is probably the least useful year to take the PSAT. At that point, the window to earn a qualifying Merit Scholarship PSAT score has passed and PSAT practice should give way to actually taking the SAT for university admission in the next year. However, if you’re a senior who’s just starting SAT prep for the first time, the PSAT can provide an affordable initial practice run, with a registration fee of just $15 (compared to $45 for the SAT itself).