Get into your dream school! 

Sign up or log in to Magoosh SAT Prep.

David Recine

When Do you Take the PSAT?

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.

improve your sat score; start your premium SAT prep today

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).


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

6 Responses to “When Do you Take the PSAT?”

  1. Mirna Khaled says:

    Hello, I’m in the ninth grade and I want to start PSAT in the early year of high school…but I want to known the basics of PSAT so I would know improve until the actual SAT…What are the basics of PSAT?

    • David Recine David Recine says:

      Here on our blog, Rita has written a pretty good PSAT basics post. The post includes links to official PSAT practice materials that can help you really master those basics. The main thing you need to know, though, is that the PSAT has all the same basic content as the SAT (minus the optional SAT essay). The only major difference is that the PSAT is slightly simpler/easier.

  2. Bailyn Alt says:

    Hello, I’m going to be going into 10th grade after the summer. I was wondering what is a good place where I can go into and be in the same environment and take a practice almost identical SAT test?

  3. aashna jain says:

    hello, i just started the 12th grade, and i want to know if i should prepare for SAT directly or first take the PSAT’s. Also, what are the average SAT scores?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      I’d say skip the PSAT and go right to the SAT. Since your junior year has ended, you can’t use the PSAT to try for a National Merit Scholarship. In addition, the PSAT is really designed as an SAT warmup exercise for early to mid-high school students. The SAT is more suitable for final year students. And of course, you’ll want that SAT score as soon as possible, so that you can start submitting it to universities.

      As for average SAT scores, you can find a breakdown of averages nationally and by state on the College Board’s official SAT report page.

      But it may be helpful to look at average scores by school. Each school has its own average score range for accepted incoming freshmen. For more information, check out Magoosh’s table of SAT score ranges for top schools.

Leave a Reply

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!