The College Board now offers the PSAT 8/9 to eighth graders and high school freshmen as the first hurdle in the group of tests they call the “SAT Suite of Assessments”. This test is a precursor to the PSAT 10, the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT.
But when is it offered? And should you even bother taking it? In this article I’ll give you all the details!
What Is the PSAT 8/9?
The PSAT 8/9 is the first in the College Board’s “SAT Suite of Assessments” and is offered to eighth and ninth graders. The purpose of the PSAT 8/9 is to establish a starting point in terms of college and career readiness as students transition to high school. It’s a way for students to practice for the PSAT 10, the PSAT/NMSQT, and the SAT.
The test is offered in the fall and spring. Schools choose the dates on an individual basis, unlike the SAT, which is administered at designated test on dates determined by the College Board. Your school may offer the PSAT 8/9 between September 26th 2016 and January 27th 2017 or between February 21st 2017 and April 14th 2017.
To sign up for the test, you will have to go through your school counselor. It costs $10 to order the materials, but some schools will cover this fee for you. Accommodations can also be made for students with disabilities. You don’t need College Board approval to get accommodations for the PSAT 8/9, but test coordinators at your school must order any special materials before the ordering deadline.
What’s on the PSAT 8/9, and How Is It Scored?
The PSAT 8/9, like the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT and SAT, has three testing areas: Reading, Writing, and Math. The Reading and Writing subject areas are combined for an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score. Math has its own separate section score.
On the PSAT 8/9, you will get a total score between 240 and 1440, which is the sum of the two section scores in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math that each range from 120 to 720. You’ll also get three test scores for Reading, Writing, and Math that each range from 6-36.
You are also given Cross-Test scores which analyze questions across the three subject areas and separate them into a score for Analysis in History/Social Studies and a score for Analysis in Science. Each of these scores ranges from 6-36 as well. The subject areas are broken down into six additional subscores measured on a scale of 1-15.
WHEW that’s a lot of scores! It might be hard to make sense of all of them at first, but the purpose of having so many different scores is to show you specifically where you might need improvement. You also get percentiles with your scores which will demonstrate how you compare to other students. Your score percentile provides the percentage of students that score at or below your level. This can help you figure out whether you’re on the right track for getting a high score on the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT and SAT.
Since the current SAT is scored out of 1600, your scores on the PSAT 8/9 will be easily comparable to real SAT scores. The PSAT 8/9 is a way to practice for the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT so that you will be used to the test format and end up with high enough scores to possibly qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. It’s just a practice Practice SAT!
Studying for the SAT and learning how to yoyo are surprisingly similar
How Does the PSAT 8/9 Differ From the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT?
Test Structure Differences
The PSAT 8/9 is slightly different from the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT in length and scoring. The PSAT 8/9, as stated in the previous section, records scores on a scale of 240 to 1440. Scores on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT range from 320 to 1520.
This has to do with the fact that the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are longer than the PSAT 8/9 and have more questions. The PSAT 8/9 is 2 hours and 25 minutes long while the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are 2 hours and 45 minutes long.
On the PSAT 8/9 there are 42 Reading questions, 40 Writing and Language questions, and 38 Math questions. On the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT there are 47 Reading questions, 44 Writing and Language questions, and 48 Math questions. The biggest difference is in the number of Math questions - there are ten more on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT than there are on the PSAT 8/9.
The SAT has still more questions and is slightly longer than the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT - three hours with an optional fifty minute essay. There are 52 Reading questions, 44 Writing and Language questions, and 58 Math questions.
Test Content Differences
PSAT 8/9 Reading
On the reading section of the PSAT 8/9, you won't have to make any complex inferences. You will mainly be expected to draw simple, one step conclusions that are spelled out in the text. On the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, however, you'll have to make more difficult inferences that aren't as literal.
For the PSAT 8/9 you will also be asked to identify relationships described in the passages based on straightforward information in the text. This is in contrast to the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT, where you will see questions about complex relationships that are based on more subtle information.
Since the reading section on the real SAT includes a data interpretation component, the PSAT 8/9 will expect you to determine explicit meaning from graphs or text (read something off of a graph). You won't have to worry about recognizing data trends yet. That starts on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT.
Overall, the passages won't be quite as long, and the questions will be more literal and less complicated.
PSAT 8/9 Writing
On the Writing section of the PSAT 8/9, you'll see questions about punctuation usage in simple contexts. This means you should have knowledge of basic rules like how to use commas to separate a list. On the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT you will be asked to use punctuation in more complex ways (things like semicolons to separate clauses or colons to introduce lists).
For the PSAT 8/9, you will edit straightforward sentences that might contain one grammatical challenge like an introductory phrase. On the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT you will be faced with compound complex sentences where errors might be less clear.
Like the Reading section, the Writing section will also incorporate graphics, which will be fairly basic for the PSAT 8/9 but become more complex on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT.
PSAT 8/9 Math
On the Math section of the PSAT 8/9, problems usually require one or two steps to solve, whereas math problems on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT may have two or more steps. You'll see ratios, percents, proportions, introductory probability, and statistics on the PSAT 8/9, but you won't see the comparisons between linear and exponential growth that show up on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT.
Trigonometry-wise, you'll want to know the properties of right triangles, but you won't need to know trigonometric ratios yet. Those are only tested on the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT.
Why Should You Take the PSAT 8/9?
The point of the PSAT 8/9 is to provide insight into the subject areas where you need to make the most score improvements before you take the PSAT and ultimately the SAT. If you're really set on getting a great score on the PSAT/NMSQT, it might be a good idea to take the PSAT 8/9.
The PSAT 8/9 has no stakes - it’s just a way to see how you’re doing without any consequences if you end up bombing it. Since the PSAT/NMSQT is only offered once a year in October, you will have two chances maximum to take it (one in 10th grade and one in 11th grade). If you want to win a National Merit Scholarship, you have to do really well on one of those two tests. The best way to know which areas you need to work on is to take the PSAT 8/9. Based on your PSAT 8/9 scores, you will get personalized SAT study materials through Khan Academy.
If you’re not set on winning a scholarship, you probably don’t need to take the PSAT 8/9. Just plan on taking the PSAT/NMSQT so that you can get an idea of where you are score-wise before the real SAT and where you need to improve. You might also take the PSAT 10 your Sophomore year to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT. PSAT 10 scores, like PSAT 8/9 scores, aren’t considered as a factor in the National Merit Scholarship competition.
A very prestigious Scholar Ship.
The Bottom Line
The PSAT 8/9 is the first step on the path to the SAT.
You can take it in 8th or 9th grade, and it’s somewhat similar to the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT. The main differences are that there is no scholarship associated with it, it's shorter, and it has a lower score range. The PSAT 8/9 is essentially just another way to practice for the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT.
If you’re really invested in figuring out where you need to improve your scores in order to do well enough on the PSAT/NMSQT to win a National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT 8/9 is a useful low-stakes assessment tool. Otherwise, just wait and take the PSAT/NMSQT your sophomore or junior year before you take the SAT, or take the PSAT 10 your sophomore year and the PSAT/NMSQT your junior year.
Are you wondering whether you should take the PSAT 10 or the PSAT/NMSQT? Read this article to find out what's best for you.
Looking to practice your skills and see where you need to improve? Here are some PSAT practice tests to get your studying started.
To learn more about how PSAT scores translate into SAT scores and whether one reliably predicts the other, read this guide.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test 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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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.