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What Is the PSAT 10? Complete Guide

Posted by Halle Edwards | Jul 21, 2015 9:18:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies



Most high school students have heard of the PSAT NMSQT – a.k.a. the practice SAT that doubles as the qualifying exam for the National Merit competition. Fewer have heard of the PSAT 10, a new version of the PSAT designed for sophomores.

So what exactly is the PSAT 10, and why should you consider taking it? Learn all about it in our guide.


What Is the PSAT 10?

The PSAT 10 is a practice SAT exam that will debut in the 2015-16 school year. It will be aligned to the new SAT – meaning it has new SAT question types including evidence support questions on the reading. Its scores will also be reported on the same scale as the new SAT.

The PSAT 10 is designed specifically for sophomores in high school, so its questions are not as difficult as the PSAT/NMSQT, which is designed for juniors. We’ll explore what those questions might look like below.

It's important to know that the PSAT 10 does not qualify you for the National Merit competition, even if you get a really high score. It's just an SAT practice test.


What Is the PSAT/NMSQT?

The PSAT NMSQT is very similar to the PSAT 10. It’s also a practice SAT exam, and it also will be aligned to the new SAT beginning in the 2015-16 school year. However, the PSAT NMSQT is designed specifically for juniors in high school, so it is slightly more difficult than the PSAT 10. We’ll explore the different difficulty levels in detail below.

Another huge difference between the tests is that the PSAT NMSQT can qualify you for the National Merit competition. If you take PSAT/NMSQT as a junior and get a high enough score, you will be in the running to get a National Merit scholarship.


Timing and Scoring of the PSAT 10

The PSAT 10 is two hours and 45 minutes long, the same length as the PSAT NMSQT. The Reading section is 60 minutes, with 47 questions. The Writing section is 35 minutes, with 44 questions. The math section is 70 minutes, with 48 questions.

Even though there are more Reading and Writing than Math questions, Math is worth half your score, between 160 and 760 total composite points. Reading and Writing are combined for a section score between 160 and 760.  The PSAT 10 is thus scored between 320-1520 (160–760 each for Math and Reading/Writing).



Score scale for SAT, PSAT NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9 via College Board.


This puts the tests on a similar scale as the redesigned SAT, which is scored between 400 and 1600 (between 200 and 800 for Math and Reading/Writing). The idea is that the PSAT predicts your score on the SAT, but doesn’t predict an exact score since the SAT is more difficult. This is why the scoring scales don’t exactly match up.


What Does the PSAT 10 Test?

The content and format of the PSAT 10 is very similar to the new SAT and the new PSAT/NMSQT. The only difference is that the PSAT 10 is shorter than the new SAT, and its questions do not get as difficult since they are designed for students at the sophomore level.

College Board hasn’t released specific guidelines as to how more or less difficult the SAT is than the new PSAT, though they have listed detailed specifications for the new “SAT suite of assessments,” including PSAT 10, PSAT NMSQT, the SAT.

We will summarize these by section and predict where College Board will make the content a bit easier to give you an idea of what to expect on the PSAT 10.



All questions in the Reading section are multiple choice and based on passages. Read below for more on what the passages are like and how difficult the questions are.


What Are the Passages Like?

The Reading section passages are drawn from American and world literature, history/social studies articles, and science articles.

Some passages are paired with other passages and the questions ask you to compare the two. Other passages include informational graphics like charts, graphs, and tables, and it’s your job to be able to break those down. In other words, it goes beyond your basic "read the passage, answer the questions" standardized test.

From the PSAT 10 to the real SAT, the reading difficulty ranges from texts like those found in high school courses to texts comparable to those assigned in college level courses. This means the PSAT 10 will likely stick to grade 9 and 10 level texts whereas PSAT NMSQT and SAT will draw from more challenging passages, including from college-level courses.


What Are the Questions Like?

The redesigned SAT/PSAT will emphasize analysis in history/social studies passages, interpretation of words in context, and command of evidence in science. Analysis of history/social studies means you will have to analyze patterns in the writing and choose answers explaining how and why certain phenomena are true. Interpretation of words in context means you will be asked to define a word’s meaning given where it is in the passage – you won’t be asked obscure vocabulary questions. And finally, command of evidence in science will test your ability to analyze how well-supported theories and experiments are in science passages.

The PSAT 10 won’t get as hard as the SAT, so the trickiest vocabulary and hardest passages won’t be tested. Take a look at an example question below to get an idea of what a PSAT 10 Reading question could look like. Notice how the emphasis is what the sentence means in the context of the passage.


See the associated passage and more sample Reading questions over at College Board.



For the writing section, you will also be working with passages. But on these questions, you’re put in the role of an editor who is improving a passage. Like the Reading section, all questions are multiple choice.


What Are the Passages Like?

The passages on the writing section are either arguments, informative/explanatory texts or nonfiction narratives. They address topics related to careers, history/social studies, the humanities, and science.

Some passages are paired with informational graphics such as charts, graphs, and tables. The passages are long so you can answer questions about the whole passage’s organization and meaning, but there is also more fine-grained editing. For example, you might have to determine the correct placement of a comma in part of a sentence.

The texts vary in complexity, from those found in high school classes to college-level. Again, the PSAT 10 will focus on high-school level texts, while the PSAT NMSQT and SAT will feature tougher, college-level texts.


What Are the Questions Like?

Just like on the Reading section, the Writing questions will emphasize analysis of history/social studies passages, interpretation of words in context and command of evidence for science.

In addition, the expression of ideas (topic development, organization, and rhetorical effectiveness) and standard English conventions will be tested. This means that in addition to analyzing the passages’ meaning, you also have to correct their content on a surface level.

Check out the sample question below. This shows a question that asks about parallel structure.



See more sample Writing questions over at College Board.



For the Math section, most questions are multiple choice, but there are some student-produced (grid-in) responses – this will be 17 to 22% of the questions, or about one in five. Also, there are two portions of the math section – a portion with a calculator allowed and a no-calculator section.

The emphasis in this section is on problem solving, modeling, using appropriate tools strategically, and recognizing and using algebraic structure. In practice, this means more story/situation problems than the old SAT or old PSAT had.

Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, basic statistics, and trigonometry are all tested on the new SAT. The PSAT NMSQT and PSAT 10 less likely to contain advanced Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonmetry questions. You can expect a pretty thorough test of pre-algebra, basic algebra, as well as basic statistics.

The question below, a story problem that asks you to identify the algebraic equation that matches the situation described, is a good example of the kind of Math question you might see on the PSAT 10.



See more sample questions over at College Board.



Should I Take PSAT 10 or PSAT NMSQT?

Check out our article about PSAT 10 versus PSAT NMSQT for a more complete discussion of which test you should take. That said, these are the basic ideas you should keep in mind when deciding between PSAT 10 and PSAT NMSQT.

As a junior, you should definitely take the PSAT/NMSQT so you have a shot at qualifying for the National Merit competition, and also get the most rigorous practice for the SAT.

As a sophomore, you can take either test, depending on your goals. If you have your heart set on getting a National Merit Scholarship, take the PSAT/NMSQT as a sophomore. You can’t qualify sophomore year, but you can get practice and learn exactly how difficult the exam is. You’ll also start more rigorous SAT practice early.

If you don’t care as much about the National Merit Scholarship and just want to practice for the SAT, the PSAT 10 might be a better fit.

If you’re a freshman or younger, you should consider taking the PSAT 8/9, which is yet another version of the PSAT specifically designed for older middle school students. The PSAT 8/9 will introduce you to SAT-type questions without overwhelming you with difficult content.


What’s Next?

Get a complete guide to the new SAT in 2016 as well as the new PSAT, to understand what is changing on the SAT/PSAT and how that will affect your studying.

Not sure exactly when you should aim to take the SAT? Get an answer to that question here.

So what exactly is National Merit? Learn about the program here and then learn how to get the scholarship.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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