If you are a high school senior or junior preparing to take the SAT, looking at PSAT scores may be a source of encouragement or of concern. You may be wondering: Does getting a good score on the PSAT mean I will get a good score on the SAT? The answer is it depends on a few different factors. Keep reading to find out why your PSAT score does not necessarily mean you will receive a similar score on the SAT, and why studying is the only way to guarantee a strong performance.

What Is the PSAT? Is It the Same as the SAT?

The PSAT and the SAT are two standardized tests taken by high school students and administered by the College Board. The PSAT is two hours and 45 minutes long. The SAT takes three hours, along with an optional additional fifty minute essay section. PSAT stands for Preliminary SAT, so it can be viewed as a practice SAT. However, it is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), so you should aim to score as a high as possible. If you achieve a qualifying score, you be be eligible for a scholarship.

In terms of content, the PSAT and SAT cover basically the same subject areas. The PSAT has three sections: reading, writing and language, and math. The SAT has these same three sections, but also offers the optional essay to demonstrate your writing abilities.

But, the PSAT and the SAT are not identical – the PSAT is a little bit shorter, has no essay, and will not be sent to colleges as a part of your application, while your SAT scores are. However, along with potentially qualifying you for a National Merit Scholarship, it also serves as a guide for what you need to study for the SAT, so you should still consider it an important part of your college application process.

How Does It Relate to the SAT?

For most students, the PSAT is a good projection of how you will generally do on the SAT. While it is certainly not exact, it can give you a ballpark range of where you would be if you were taking the SAT.  However, it is a less accurate predictor of SAT performance the earlier you take it, so there is a higher likelihood of your performance changing, since you will have learned more material in the meantime.

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How Might Your Scores Change?

Your PSAT score might be lower than your SAT score because you are younger when you take the PSAT than the SAT, although certain material may be easier to recall because you may be taking classes that cover the material around that time. Then again, that could also happen on the SAT. Be sure to compare your knowledge base (what you know, what classes you are taking, what classes and materials you have yet to take and learn, and so on) with the subject matter covered by both tests so that you still know what you already knew well already, along with what you need to review and study.

On the flip side, the PSAT is generally considered to be slightly easier than the SAT, so your score may be a little bit higher than it is on the SAT. This may be because you feel less stressed about the PSAT, or you may find the content easier or more familiar. Additionally, unlike the SAT, there is no essay on the PSAT, which can reduce stress for some students.

But in the end, what really matters is that you prepare well for the tests. Just because you score well on the PSAT does not mean you will on the SAT, just as a low PSAT score does not necessarily mean a low SAT score. There are many ways to prepare for both tests – taking practice tests, using flash cards, and so on. Additionally, our CollegeVine guide to Frequently Asked Questions on the New SAT offers tips on what kind of questions to prepare for, so you can study accordingly.

The Take-Away

The PSAT is not necessarily the best indicator of what your final score will be because there is always room for improvement or regression, depending on whether you study to maintain a high score or improve a low one. Still, the PSAT can be useful as a benchmark to find out where you are. If you know what you are good at and what you can improve (which will be included in the score reports), you can design a study schedule that will finesse your strengths and lead to great performance on the SAT.

Ultimately, your score can change drastically from the PSAT to the SAT. If you did not originally get the score you hoped for, don’t worry. Study up! And, if you already did, study some more! The PSAT can be a useful guide and test-run, but it is not the SAT that you will be sending to colleges. For that, you must also prepare.

If you have more questions about the SAT, check out CollegeVine’s general guide to the test: A High School Senior’s Guide to the SAT. To answer your frequently asked questions about performing well on the SAT, read our guide: An Inside Look at How to Do Well on the SAT. And finally, if you’re a freshman or sophomore worried about the PSATs, check out our Guide to Freshman and Sophomore Years. Happy testing!

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Julia Mearsheimer

Julia Mearsheimer

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.
Julia Mearsheimer