Every year, thousands of students across the nation take the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test, or PSAT for short. Though the exam is primarily taken by high school sophomores and juniors as a preparation tool for the SAT, students can take the PSAT as early as the eighth grade if they are especially driven to prepare early for college admissions. No matter when a student takes the PSAT, their score is a general measure of how prepared they are for college as the exam asks questions in core subject areas of Reading, Writing, and Math. Now that you know about the test, read on if you’re interested in taking the PSAT and wondering when you should take it.
When Is The PSAT?
The PSAT can be taken as early as in eighth grade and as late as in eleventh grade. The test taken at each grade level is slightly different and also varies in dates when it is offered. For example, the PSAT taken by sophomores is called the PSAT 10 and is often offered in the Winter, while the PSAT taken by juniors is called the PSAT/NMSQT and is often offered in the Fall.
The test is administered by schools, and some often designate a day for PSAT testing and require all of their high school sophomores and juniors to take it. Check in with your school administrators or guidance counselors to find out if this is the case for you. If your school does not offer the PSAT or if you are homeschooled, you can take the test at another school by using the College Board’s School Search tool to find a nearby testing site. Be sure to contact the school well ahead of the testing date to ensure that you can snag a spot.
When Do You Take The PSAT: All The Options Listed
As mentioned before, the PSAT given to different grade levels are not identical. The questions are adjusted in difficulty so that younger students are not expected to know as much as older students. The format of each test also slightly differs in length of sections.
Read on for several options on when to take the PSAT, and the pros and cons of taking it that year.
Option 1: Take the PSAT In 8th and 9th Grade
The PSAT 8/9 is taken by eighth graders and high school freshman and is typically offered by schools on several dates between September and April.
For example, in the 2022-2023 school year, the PSAT 8/9 is offered during the following testing windows:
- September 26, 2022–January 27, 2023
- February 21, 2023–March 24, 2023
- April 12–28, 2023
This is the earliest possible PSAT test you can take in your high school career. Taking the PSAT 8/9 allows you to maximize the number of times you can take the test—you can then take the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT later in sophomore and junior years of high school.
- You will be super familiar with the format. Taking the PSAT early on allows you to know exactly what to expect. Though the formats differ slightly between tests, the general subject areas, types of questions asked, and time pressure remains the same.
- You can prepare early. Starting preparation early is key for the PSAT. Cramming for the test does not lead to the best results, especially as there are many different subjects tested. Starting practice early allows you to do drills and develop your skills over a long period of time—the essential key to performing successfully on a test.
- Taking the PSAT this early can lead to unnecessary stress and burnout. Most experts actually think that eighth and ninth grade is too early to be taking the PSAT. Students should instead focus on transitioning to high school and maintaining a solid GPA. Starting PSAT practice too early can also lead to burnout later on in high school.
- You can ignore the opportunity to take the ACT. Students who start preparing this early can focus all of their efforts to do well on the PSAT specifically. Devoting all of your time, energy, and resources on this test can preclude you from considering other testing opportunities like the ACT. Some students’ skills are better aligned with the ACT where they can perform more successfully.
Option 2: Take the PSAT In 10th Grade
The PSAT 10 is taken by high school sophomores and is typically offered by schools in February, March, or April.
For example, in the 2022-2023 school year, the PSAT 10 is offered during the following testing windows:
- February 21–March 24, 2023
- April 12–28, 2023
- Similar pros to taking the PSAT 8/9. You can familiarize yourself with the format early on and start preparation early.
- Prepares you well for the PSAT/NMSQT as it is more similar in format and difficulty to that test. Taking advantage of this preparation tool is especially important if you’re gunning to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program or need your PSAT score for any other college-related opportunity.
- Again, unnecessary stress and burnout is a factor here, as well as ignoring the alternative option of taking the ACT.
Option 3: Take the PSAT/NMSQT In 11th Grade
The PSAT/NMSQT is taken by high school juniors and is typically offered by schools in the Fall. It is the only opportunity for students to quality for the National Merit Scholarship program (this is why the test is called the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test – NMSQT).
For example, in the 2022-2023 school year, the PSAT 10 is offered during the following test dates:
- Primary test day: Wednesday, October 12, 2022
- Saturday test day: October 15, 2022
- Alternate test day: Tuesday, October 25, 2022
- This is the best tool to prepare for the SAT. Your score report will detail your strengths and weaknesses, which you can use to best tailor your preparation and study strategy for the SAT. Additionally, like the previous options, it is a good opportunity to familiarize yourself with the testing format and environment of taking the SAT.
- Provides an adequate timeframe to study for the SAT while avoiding burnout. Starting your studying after taking the PSAT/NMSQT is the sweet spot when balancing burnout and putting in the right amount of hours to be adequately prepared.
- Some students hoping to participate in the National Merit Scholarship program should consider taking earlier tests before this one. Taking this as your first exam is not ideal if you want to take part in the heavily competitive National Merit Scholarship program. Consider taking the PSAT 10 so that you are familiar with the test and can start studying well ahead of this test date.
Option 4: Skip the PSAT
Taking the PSAT is completely optional. Schools review student’s PSAT scores as a college readiness benchmark, but your scores are not sent to any college admissions committees. The score you receive is for your own information on how ready you are for college and how you can start preparing for the SAT, which is the test score that is sent to colleges. There is one exception to this: the PSAT is required to take for high school juniors who want to participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition. This competition gives out millions of dollars in scholarships to high-scoring students across the nation.
Though the PSAT is optional, there are several pros and cons to consider when deciding to take the test. Overall, experts recommend taking at least the PSAT/NMSQT, especially if you are serious about attending college and crafting the best possible admissions application.
- Less stressful, limits burnout.
- Less expensive. In most cases, schools will cover the fee to take the PSAT, but if you are expected or required to pay for each test, skipping taking the PSAT can save you a bit of money.
- You do not experience the testing environment of the SAT. While you can definitely skip taking the PSAT and just study for the SAT on your own, you’re missing the best opportunities to experience a “test run” of actually taking the SAT. Taking the PSAT allows you to experience the same testing environment as the SAT, which is extremely difficult to replicate elsewhere or in practice.
- Lack of motivation to start preparation. Usually, PSAT score reports acts as motivation for students to start preparing for the SAT. It gives them a solid idea of where they should focus their studying efforts and incentivizes them to keep improving their score.
- No comparison between the SAT and ACT. If students instead decide to take the ACT, they wouldn’t know if their skills were actually better aligned with the SAT. It’s better to try both tests, then compare scores and decide which test is better for you.
Preparation Made Easy With SofloTutors
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About the Author
Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania double-majoring in Economics and Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT, and when she’s not studying on campus or meeting with friends, Andie enjoys playing the acoustic and electric guitar.