How long is the PSAT?

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT

The PSAT, or the “Preliminary SAT,” is a standardized test taken by many US students in the fall of their junior year. Some students also have the chance to take the PSAT as a sophomore.

Many students don’t realize that the PSAT is a chance to win important scholarships! Each year 7,500 high-scoring students win National Merit scholarships by scoring highly on the PSAT. Some schools also award additional scholarships to top scorers, including automatic full-ride scholarships. Top scores can also help with admissions to highly competitive schools, and many colleges compete to recruit students who excel on the PSAT.

One of the most common questions we receive is about the structure and length of the PSAT. This question is especially relevant in 2022 and 2023, because the PSAT is changing significantly in fall 2023. We share everything you need to know here.

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What is the PSAT?
How long is the PSAT?
Testing accommodations and extended time on the PSAT
How to take the PSAT
Next steps

What is the PSAT?

Many people have heard of the SAT and the ACT. These are the two main standardized tests used to apply to colleges in the US. Both tests are accepted equally for admissions purposes at colleges and universities, and these days the tests are taken by roughly equal numbers of students. Read more about how the SAT and the ACT compare here, and how to convert SAT and ACT scores here.

(Wondering whether tests still matter with the new test-optional policies? Yes, tests still matter. Even if the schools on your list are now test-optional, at the vast majority of schools strong test scores will still help your chances of admissions, and can be used to qualify for scholarships or special programs.)

The PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is the “practice” SAT. 

Most students take the SAT in their junior or senior year of high school. Typically the peak time for SAT testing is in the spring of junior year, although testing earlier can make the process less stressful for students.

The PSAT, on the other hand, is taken in the fall of junior year. Some students might also take the PSAT the fall of their sophomore year, but this score cannot count for the National Merit competition.

High scores on the PSAT can earn students awards from the National Merit program: Commended, Semi-Finalists, Finalist, or Scholar. Students can win a variety of scholarships directly through this program, and many schools also award additional scholarships to National Merit students. Some schools even give automatic full-ride scholarships!

student success

National Merit status is also a strong statement for college admissions, and many colleges compete to recruit these top students.

Because of this competition, the PSAT isn’t just a “practice” SAT — for top scorers, it’s also a chance to win big.

Download a 30-minute sample of the PSAT to try it out today!

How long is the PSAT?

The PSAT is very similar to the SAT, just a little bit shorter and a little bit easier.

The PSAT and the SAT are both in the midst of a major change. In March 2023, a new digital adaptive SAT is launching for students taking the test outside of the US. These changes will then affect all students from March 2024.

In line with the changes to the SAT, the PSAT is also changing from fall 2023.

Because of these changes, we’ll discuss the format of both versions of the PSAT — the classic PSAT (last test was October 2022) and the new digital PSAT (first test will be October 2023).

The current paper PSAT

Current PSAT test format (valid through fall 2022):

SectionLength (minutes)Number of questionsSeconds per question
Reading604776 seconds
Writing & Language354447 seconds
Math704887 seconds

The current paper PSAT that students have taken for the past eight years is two hours and forty-five minutes long. Students need to answer 139 questions in total.

On the Reading second, students have on average 76 seconds to answer each question. On the Writing & Language section, however, students have less than a minute — 47 seconds — for each of the questions, so they’ll have to move at a faster pace. 

The Math section averages to 87 seconds per question, but students will want to answer the easier questions more quickly to save time for the harder questions at the end.

Overall the PSAT gives students a little more time per question than the SAT, but pacing is still a significant challenge for many students. Completing timed practice sections at home is one of the best ways to improve this skill and get a sense for the pace necessary to complete the test.

Students who realistically aren’t aiming at a perfect score can also be strategic and skip the hardest questions to reserve more time to focus on the easier questions. However, remember not to leave any questions blank! There are no penalties for incorrect answers, so always at least write in a guess! Even a complete guess will have a 25% chance of choosing correctly and earning that point.

The new digital PSAT

Now, the College Board has not yet released specific information about the changes to the new digital PSAT.

However, in November 2022 they released examples of the new digital SAT.

Because the PSAT has always mirrored the SAT, we can make some educated guesses about the new digital PSAT coming in fall 2023.

We now know that the new digital SAT will be shorter than the current paper SAT, just a bit more than two hours (versus the current three hours).

There will be two main sections with a break in between: first Reading & Writing, and then Math.

On the current paper SAT, there are separate sections for Reading and for Writing. On the new digital SAT, these will be combined, and students will find Reading questions (about reading comprehension) in the same section as Writing questions (about grammar and the mechanics of clear writing).

Each section will be broken down further into two equal “stages.” The changes to the overall test structure will look like this:

Changes to the SAT format:

current SAT vs digital SAT

The new structure is due to the shift to adaptive for the new digital SAT.

Basically, adaptive means that the test will become harder or easier depending on how students perform on the first set of questions:

how the new digital SAT will be adaptive

We explain how this works in much more detail here.

Possible new digital PSAT test format (to be announced by the College Board):

SectionLength (minutes)Number of questions
Reading & Writing I30 minutes?24 questions?
Reading & Writing II30 minutes?24 questions?
Math I30 minutes?20 questions?
Math II30 minutes?20 questions?
*this test structure is speculative based on releases thus far by the College Board — to be confirmed

Since the PSAT is usually slightly shorter than the SAT, and the new digital SAT will be two hours and fifteen minutes long, we can guess that the new digital PSAT might be about two hours long.

We’ll update this guide as soon as the College Board provides more information and examples of the new digital PSAT.

Testing accommodations and extended time on the PSAT

Like the SAT, the PSAT offers testing accommodations to students who need them.

Families will need to provide appropriate documentation of the need for accommodations. All students taking the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 with accommodations must have approval from College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).

Families should check well in advance of test day with the school’s SSD coordinator to confirm that all necessary accommodations are in place with all of the required documentation. 

On testing day, students will need to bring their SSD eligibility letter.

One of the most common testing accommodations is extended time.

Since we don’t yet know the exact details of the length of the new digital PSAT, we’ll describe the current paper PSAT here.

Under standard conditions, the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 take 2 hours and 45 minutes with two breaks.

If students receive an accommodation of time and one-half (+50%) for the full test, the PSAT takes 4 hours and 9 minutes, plus breaks.

With double time (+100%) for the full test, the PSAT takes 5 hours and 30 minutes, plus breaks.

Students approved for extended time are also approved for extra breaks.

Depending on their accommodations, some students may receive extended time for certain sections of the test. For example, students approved for extended time for mathematical calculations, but not for reading, may receive extended time for only the PSAT math sections.

Consult your school counselor and school administration for more guidance, and read the official requirements on the College Board website.

How to take the PSAT

Whereas the SAT can be taken most months of the year, the PSAT is only offered once a year in mid-October

When students take the PSAT as juniors, their scores can be used for the prestigious National Merit competition. Each year 15,000 students across the US become National Merit Finalists and win big scholarships and a significant advantage in college admissions!

Younger students can also take the PSAT, but their scores cannot be used for the National Merit program.

The PSAT is taken through the student’s school, and there’s often no cost to students since fees are paid by the schools. 

Students typically register for the PSAT through their school. It’s possible for homeschooled students to sign up for the PSAT at a nearby school; families should contact the school at least four months in advance to register.

If you’re not sure if your school offers the PSAT, contact your school counselor or administration. We recommend taking the PSAT if it’s offered, since it’s a great opportunity to practice for the SAT and, for high-scoring students, a chance to win big scholarships.

We’ve provided free guidance for the PSAT covering average scores on the test, the score ranges necessary to win scholarships through National Merit, the types of questions found on the test, the difference between the PSAT and the SAT, and more. In addition, feel free to reach out to our test-prep team for a short educational consultation.

Next steps

Download our sample PSAT questions to get a taste of the PSAT!

Then make a plan for PSAT preparation. If you’re an ambitious student who often scores in the top 5% on standardized tests, you’ll want to take the PSAT seriously, since you have a serious chance of winning impressive scholarships — including full-ride college scholarships — through the National Merit program

To prepare for the PSAT, students should identify any weak spots and do a combination of targeted exercises and full-length practice tests to improve their performance on the test. A top-notch PSAT and SAT tutor can help students to make a customized prep plan based on their goals.

However, many published PSAT prep books and resources are now out-of-date. Students who are preparing for the PSAT should make sure that they are preparing for the 2023 version of the test!

An experienced test prep tutor can help students make sure they’re practicing the correct version of the test and using the most up-to-date strategies.

If you’re not in the top 5%, it’s fine to approach the PSAT more like a practice SAT — but you still may want to prepare for it so it’s a positive experience, and so that you can get the most out of the practice.

Fortunately, the PSAT is nearly the same as the SAT, so any prep for the PSAT also prepares students for the SAT.

Once you’ve taken the PSAT in October of junior year, it’s time to shift to SAT prep. If you’ve already taken the PSAT, know that it’s absolutely possible to earn a higher score on the SAT with the right practice and preparation!

To start one-on-one PSAT and SAT tutoring today, set up a quick free consultation with our team.

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Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT


Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.