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What Is the PSAT 10? Complete Guide


Most high school students have heard of the PSAT NMSQT—aka the practice SAT that doubles as a qualifying exam for the National Merit competition. Fewer have heard of the PSAT 10, which is a version of the PSAT designed specifically for sophomores.

What exactly is the PSAT 10, and why should you consider taking it? Learn all about it here.


PSAT 10 Changes Due to COVID-19

The novel coronavirus has also impacted the PSAT. PSAT 10 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 10? Unfortunately, the College Board doesn't appear to be rescheduling PSATs cancelled this spring. This means you won't take the PSAT this school year, and you'll need to wait until the next school year to take a PSAT.

While this is frustrating, it likely won't hurt you in the long term. The reason to take the PSAT 10 is to prepare yourself for the PSAT/NMSQT and eventual SAT. While you won't get an official PSAT score from this year, you can still get in plenty of practice from official practice PSATs. We also have a guide on how to prepare for the PSAT.

PSAT 10 scores aren't used for college admissions; the main purpose of the exam is to give you an idea of how well you'd score on the PSAT/NMSQT. By using our resources and practicing on your own, you'll have all the resources you need to still excel on the PSAT/NMSQT, even without taking the PSAT 10.


What Is the PSAT 10?

The PSAT 10 is a practice SAT exam that debuted in the 2015-16 school year. It is aligned to the SAT, meaning it has similar question types and the same Reading, Writing, and Math sections. Its scores are based on a total scale of 320-1520.

Unlike the SAT, which is designed for juniors and seniors, the PSAT 10 is designed specifically for sophomores in high school. As a result, its questions are not as difficult as those on the SAT.

It's essential to know that the PSAT 10 is the same test as the PSAT/NMSQT, which is designed for both sophomores and juniors. In other words, all questions, sections, and time limits are the same for these two tests.

So why do these exams have different names then? Here are the two major differences between the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT:

  • The PSAT 10 is offered at a different time than the PSAT/NMSQT is: While the PSAT 10 is offered once a year to sophomores in the spring, the PSAT/NMSQT is offered once a year in the fall. School districts can choose when to administer the PSAT 10. This year, it must be between February 25 and March 29, 2019, or April 1 and April 26, 2019.
  • The PSAT 10 does not qualify you for National Merit as the PSAT/NMSQT does: Even if you get a really high score on it, don't expect to win any scholarships or awards. It's just an SAT practice test—that's it!


What Is the PSAT/NMSQT?

As stated above, the PSAT NMSQT is, content-wise, the same test as the PSAT 10. Like the PSAT 10, the PSAT/NMSQT is a practice SAT exam and is thus highly similar to the SAT. However, since the PSAT NMSQT is designed specifically for sophomores and juniors in high school, it's not nearly as difficult as the SAT is. We'll explore the different difficulty levels in detail below.

The PSAT NMSQT can qualify you for the National Merit competition but only if you take it as a junior and get a high enough score on it. While sophomores may take this test, too, they're not eligible for National Merit, no matter how high their scores might be.

Finally, the PSAT NMSQT is offered only in the fall, typically in October. This year, the test will be held on Wednesday, October 10, 2018; there will also be a Saturday option on October 13, and an alternate date on Wednesday, October 24.




Timing and Scoring of the PSAT 10

The PSAT 10 is two hours and 45 minutes long, the same length as the PSAT NMSQT. Here are the details of each test section:

PSAT Section Total Time # of Questions
Reading 60 minutes 47
Writing and Language 35 minutes 44
Math 70 minutes 48


Even though there are more Reading and Writing questions than there are Math questions, Math is worth half your total score, between 160 and 760 points. Reading and Writing are combined to give you a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) section score, also between 160 and 760 points.

Therefore, the PSAT 10 is scored between 320 and 1520 (160–760 each for Math and EBRW).



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


This puts the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT on a similar scale as the SAT, which is scored between 400 and 1600 (200 and 800 for Math and EBRW, respectively).

The idea behind these similar scoring systems is that the PSAT can be used to predict your score on the SAT; however, it can't predict an exact score since the SAT is a more difficult test. This is why the scoring scales don't match up exactly.


What Does the PSAT 10 Test?

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

Fortunately, the College Board offers specific guidelines as to how the PSAT differs from the SAT, primarily in terms of difficulty and content. We will summarize this information by section to give you an idea of what to expect on the PSAT 10.


PSAT 10 Reading Section

All questions in the PSAT 10 Reading section are multiple choice and based on passages. You'll have 60 minutes to answer 47 questions. 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.

You'll get four passages and a set of paired passages for which you'll be asked to compare them. Some passages include informational graphics, such as charts, graphs, and tables, and it's your job to be able to break those down and interpret them accurately. In other words, the Reading section goes beyond your basic "read the passage, answer the questions" standardized test.

According to the College Board's comparison of the PSAT and SAT Reading tests, both sections cover text levels from 9th grade to 10th grade, as well as some postsecondary, or college-level, texts. In addition, the difficulty of the graphical representations are deemed "somewhat challenging to challenging" for both the PSAT and SAT.

So what does all of this mean? While the difficulty of Reading passages are generally the same for both tests, the total number of words in these passages differs. The SAT contains 3,250 words total in its passages, whereas the PSAT contains just 3,000 words total.


What Are the Questions Like?

Both the SAT and PSAT emphasize the following skills, or subscores, in their Reading sections:

  • Analysis in history/social studies passages
  • Analysis in science passages
  • Interpretation of words in context
  • Command of evidence

Analysis of history/social studies and analysis of science mean that you'll have to analyze patterns in the writing and choose answers explaining how and why certain phenomena are true.

Interpretation of words in context means that you'll be asked to define a word's meaning given its context in the passage. Note that you won't be asked obscure vocab questions.

Finally, command of evidence tests your ability to identify parts or words in a passage that support or give evidence for specific claims, conclusions, and/or interpretations.

Take a look at the official PSAT example question below to get an idea of what a PSAT 10 Reading question looks like. Notice how the emphasis is on what the sentence means in the context of the passage (not shown):



PSAT 10 Writing Section

For the PSAT 10 Writing section, you will also be working with passages. But for these questions, you'll be put in the role of an editor who is improving a passage. Like the PSAT 10 Reading section, all questions are multiple choice. You'll have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions.


What Are the Passages Like?

Passages on the PSAT 10 Writing section are either arguments, informative/explanatory texts or nonfiction narratives. They address topics related to careers, history/social studies, science, and the humanities.

Some passages come with informational graphics, such as charts, graphs, and tables. Passages are long and require you to answer questions about the whole passage's organization and meaning.

However, 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 covers a very similar variety of texts as those on the SAT Writing section.


What Are the Questions Like?

Just like on the Reading section, the Writing questions will emphasize the following four subscores:

  • Analysis in history/social studies passages
  • Analysis in science passages
  • Interpretation of words in context
  • Command of evidence

Moreover, two other subscores called expression of ideas (i.e., topic development, organization, and rhetorical effectiveness) and standard English conventions will be tested. What these mean is that in addition to analyzing passages' meanings, you'll also have to correct their content on a technical level.

Check out the two official sample PSAT Writing questions below:



PSAT 10 Math Section

For the PSAT Math section, you'll get 70 minutes to answer 48 questions. Most questions will be multiple choice, but there are some student-produced (grid-in) responses; these account for about 17% of Math questions.

Like the SAT Math section, the PSAT Math section is divided into two parts: a No Calculator Math Test, for which use of a calculator is not permitted, and a Calculator Math Test, for which use of a calculator is permitted. Note that you will get grid-ins on each subsection.

Here is a brief overview of each Math subsection:

PSAT 10 Math Subsection Total Time # of Questions
No Calculator 25 minutes 17
Calculator 45 minutes 31


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

Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, basic statistics, and trigonometry are all tested on the SAT. As the College Board notes, the PSAT 10 generally contains fewer advanced algebra, geometry, and trig questions. That said, you can still expect a pretty thorough test of pre-algebra, basic algebra, and basic statistics.

Below are two official PSAT Math questions. The first is from the No Calculator subsection, and the second is from the Calculator subsection:




Should You Take the PSAT 10 or the PSAT NMSQT?

Now that you understand what the similarities and differences are between the PSAT 10 and PSAT NMSQT, which test should you take? Below, we give you a few key tips to help you decide whether to take the PSAT 10 or the PSAT NMSQT:

  • As a junior, you should definitely take the PSAT/NMSQT. Doing this will give you a shot to qualify for the National Merit competition should you score high enough for it; you'll also get the most rigorous practice for the SAT.
  • As a sophomore, you can take either test, depending on your goals. However, if you have your heart set on getting a National Merit Scholarship, then it's best to take the PSAT/NMSQT as a sophomore (possibly in addition to the PSAT 10 if you want even more practice). Though you can't qualify for National Merit as a 10th grader, you can get in some helpful practice and learn exactly how difficult the exam is. You'll also start more rigorous SAT practice early.
  • If you're a freshman or younger, consider taking the PSAT 8/9yet another version of the PSAT specifically designed for older middle school students in (you guessed it!) the eighth and ninth grades. 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 SAT and the PSAT so you can understand how to prep for these two important tests and what you'll need to know to do well on them.

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

What exactly is National Merit? Learn more about the program here and then get tips on how to win the scholarship.



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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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