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." The PSAT 8/9 is a precursor to the PSAT 10, the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT.
But when is the PSAT 8/9 offered? And should you even bother taking it? In this article I'll give you all the details!
PSAT 8/9 Changes Due to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has also impacted the PSAT. PSAT 8/9 exams expected to be given in spring 2020 have been cancelled. You can get more information from our article on coronavirus SAT cancellations.
What should you do if you were scheduled to take the PSAT 8/9 this spring? Unfortunately, the College Board doesn't appear to be rescheduling cancelled PSATs. This means you won't take the PSAT this school year, and you'll need to wait until the next school year to take the PSAT 10.
While this is frustrating, it won't hurt you in the long term. The reason to take the PSAT 8/9 is to prepare you for future exams, such as the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT. PSAT 8/9 scores themselves aren't used for scholarships or college admissions; they're used to give you an idea of how well you'll score on future PSATs. This means that missing the PSAT 8/9 won't negatively impact your long-term goals.
While you won't get an official PSAT 8/9 score this year, you can still set yourself up to excel on the PSAT 10 next year. Check out our guide to the PSAT 10, and if you want some practice, you can take an official practice PSAT. The practice tests follow the PSAT/NMSQT format, so they'll be more difficult than the PSAT 8/9 you were going to take, but you can still use them to get a score estimate and make sure you're where you want to be.
What Is the PSAT 8/9?
The PSAT 8/9 is the first exam 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 between 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 21st 2020 and March 26th 2021 or between April 13th and 30th 2021.
To sign up for the test, you will have to go through your school counselor. It costs $12 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 Language, 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.
In addition to regular section scores, you'll be 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.
Along with scores, you'll get percentiles to help you discover how your scores 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 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?
Although all the PSAT exams share similarities, there are key ways the PSAT 8/9 differs from the other exams.
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.
Part of the reason for this difference in scoring is that the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT are longer than the PSAT 8/9 and have more questions. Take a look at the chart below comparing the PSAT 8/9 (highlighted in yellow), PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT side by side.
|PSAT 8/9||PSAT 10||PSAT/NMSQT|
|What is the range of possible scores?
|How long is it?||2 hrs
|# of Reading Qs||42||47||47|
|# of Writing Qs||40||44||44|
|# of Math Qs||38||48||48|
|Can your score qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship?||No||No||Yes|
The biggest difference between the PSAT 8/9 and the other two tests is in the number of Math questions: There are ten more questions 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 read passages and 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 and Language
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 and Language 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.
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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. Although a few schools may use the PSAT 8/9 as a placement test, for most students the exam has no stakes—it's just a way to see how you're doing without any consequences if you end up bombing it. 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.
Since the PSAT/NMSQT is only offered once a year in October, you will only 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.
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 can 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, but they can give you more information about what areas you need to work on.
A very prestigious Scholar Ship
How Can You Prepare for the PSAT 8/9?
Because the PSAT 8/9 is just a way to see how prepared you are for the PSAT 10, which is a way to practice for the PSAT/NMSQT which itself is a way to prepare for the SAT, most students don't need to prepare for the PSAT 8/9. Just taking the test and reviewing your scores is enough to give you an idea of how well you're doing and which areas you might want to consider focusing on later on when you prepare for the other exams.
However, if you do want to study for the PSAT 8/9, there are resources. There are no official practice PSAT 8/9 tests, but the College Board's PSAT 8/9 Student Guide has a handful of practice questions for each section of the test.
There are some unofficial practice PSAT 8/9 exams available, but we don't recommend them since they typically don't recreate test questions very accurately. Instead, we recommend using official study resources and practice tests for the PSAT/NMSQT. The formats of the two exams are very similar, but you won't see the most difficult questions from the PSAT/NMSQT on the PSAT 8/9, since the latter is meant for younger students. There are two official PSAT practice tests available:
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.
Learn more here about how PSAT scores translate into SAT scores and whether one reliably predicts the other.
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.