PSAT vs SAT | Key Similarities and Differences

So what exactly are the differences between the PSAT vs SAT? Are they basically the same test? Why do they even exist? We’re often asked these questions, so let us take a moment to answer them now.

Listed below are points about both tests, as well as similarities and differences when considering the PSAT vs SAT.

Here are a few PSAT myths that you should also be aware of moving forward.

SAT Basic Purpose

The SAT’s purpose is very straightforward.

It is a major standardized test that measures a high school student’s supposed readiness for college-level study. The test is designed to provide colleges and universities with a common data set that they can use to evaluate applicants every year.

They understand that it won’t be the final factor in their decision-making, but it is an important tool to quickly gauge applicants’ overall aptitude.

The SAT score a student receives ultimately impacts what colleges he or she gains admission to, and what merit-based financial aid they qualify for at those schools.

The good news is any student can take the SAT multiple times, in order to improve their aggregate score. However, each exam administration costs money, so that must be factored into account.

PSAT Basic Purpose

The PSAT has two reasons to exist.

First, the PSAT gives students a glimpse of what they’ll face on the SAT by providing an exam that is very similar but without the same pressure to succeed on it.

The PSAT is not used for college admissions. Again, colleges don’t stress over your PSAT scores at all. Their value is in giving students a better idea of how well they’ll do on the SAT itself.

The PSAT’s more important purpose is in qualifying students for the National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship is only available to students to qualify for during their junior year in high school.

Your PSAT score is the all-important factor in qualifying for that prestigious scholarship opportunity. The test is also administered only once per year, usually in 9th through 11th grade.

PSAT vs SAT Similarities


Both tests cover the same ground.

Don’t worry about not studying for material on the PSAT that won’t show up on the SAT. They both cover the same subjects.

Again, they both cover the exact same subjects. When you see algebra questions on the PSAT, expect to see similar kinds of questions on the SAT.

In fairness, this makes studying for the PSAT a great exercise for future SAT test prep.


The question structure between both tests doesn’t change much.

Both the wording and actual tasks stay similar between the PSAT and SAT. Both tests cover two major areas:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)
  • Math

The EBRW component encompasses two subtests:

  • the Reading Test
  • the Writing and Language Test

However, Math is simpler in terms of its subsections:

  • Calculator-Usage Section
  • No Calculator Section

On both tests, you’ll receive passages to examine for the Reading and Writing sections. In the Reading section, you tackle reading comprehension questions about the presented information.

In the Writing section, you answer grammatical questions covering how to fix grammatical errors and stylistic weaknesses. Regarding their Math sections, both tests contain grid-in and multiple-choice questions to answer.

No Guessing Penalty

In the past, incorrect answers literally deducted points from your score.

One-quarter point per question, actually. In theory, if you missed eight questions, not only would you not receive those eight points, but two more full points would be deducted too.

Those deductions would happen against the points you already earned. Thankfully, those days are over now with both the PSAT and SAT.

If you miss a question for answering it incorrectly, no additional penalty is made. The worst you can receive is zero points.

PSAT vs SAT Differences


Both tests have very different purposes.

The SAT is a regular requirement for college admissions boards normally. However, the PSAT is not required at all.

It is a high-level practice test that admission boards don’t take into consideration. Therefore, the PSAT, as far as college itself goes, is a non-issue.

Doing poorly on it won’t affect your chances whatsoever. However, a low SAT score will very likely reduce your chances to get into many schools.

The PSAT’s value comes in helping students qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. National Merit competitors are picked from the top 1% of junior-year PSAT scorers.

If you become a National Merit scholar, you will have access to merit financial aid at a high level.

Score Range

Both tests operate at different score ranges. The PSAT’s scale runs from 320-1520. The SAT is scored on a scale of 400-1600.

The individual section score ranges are different too. On the PSAT, EBRW, and Math section scores are derived from a scale of 160-760. The equivalent SAT sections, however, have slightly larger ranges of 200-800 points.

The PSAT is not a perfect predictor of SAT preparedness. However, a strong score on the PSAT often indicates that you’re in a good place for SAT test prep.

A perfect PSAT score does not automatically equate to a perfect SAT one. However, you are a lot closer to it than not.

The Essay Section

Here’s the biggest, most obvious difference: the PSAT has no essay.

The PSAT doesn’t feature an Essay section at all. The SAT, on the other hand, does have one. It’s optional though, so you can skip it if you are applying to colleges that don’t require that specific score.

However, don’t expect the PSAT to provide any preparation for it if you do decide to tackle the Essay section on SAT test day.

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