Why should you care about the PSAT/NMSQT?
If you're like most high school students, this exam is forced on you by your school and you have no other choice but to take it.
However, did you know that the PSAT can help you get into a great college for free (and colleges might even pay you to go there!)
How can you accomplish such a crazy feat?
Simple: you study for the PSAT, get a score that qualifies you to become a national merit semifinalist, write a quick essay and then become a national merit finalist.
If you don't want to be the average college student who finishes college with nearly $40,000 worth of debt, then the PSAT can be your way out.
Anyway, here are the best PSAT prep books you can use to get a high score and have a college pay you to go there.
PSAT Prep Books Comparison Table
# of Pages
# of practice Tests
1 + 1 online
Our Ultimate Prep List
This list is completely updated for the 2017-2018 school year. Let us know if you have any questions or concerns about the exam or the prep materials.
Also, make sure that you actually put in the time to study and don't just buy the book. 😉
This is hands down the best book to use to prepare for the exam.
It's not nearly as thick as the Princeton Review book, but it doesn't need to be any bigger. You wouldn't want to spend more time on things you already know, right?
Like most test-prep books it has the usual tips, tricks, and strategies for each specific section of the exam, and while these tips are useful, you'll probably know most of them by now.
While the tips are good, the 2 full practice exams are the truly outstanding part of this book.
These 2 exams let you truly understand the feel of the real thing, and if you practice using real test timing (which we recommend) you'll know how fast or how slow you should work on every section to get a great score.
They also resemble the real PSAT better than the Princeton Review books which is important.
Many of the students we work with finish the math section quite quickly, but struggle with the reading sections, but everyone is different so the practice exam is a great way to figure out what you need to improve on.
Before doing the practice exams you should go through the sample questions and practice passages that the book provides, but then you should go on and do the practice exams as it has been scientifically proven that the best way to learn and to improve test scores is to test yourself as often and rigorously as possible.
This book is pretty hefty at nearly double the number of pages of the Barron book, but it isn't as great for getting a high score on the exam.
It has 2 practice exams also, but the questions are of highly mixed difficulty. Some of them are quite easier than the real exam, while some of them are quite harder.
This means you don't get a good baseline of how long each section will take you and you might end up running out of time on the exam.
They also include tips for each section, general exam-taking tactics, and general time-management tips which might or might not be useful depending on who you are.
There's one specific group of people for whom this book would be better than the Barron book: those who don't like math, haven't been taught math well, or who aren't far enough in the math curriculum yet to get a good score on the exam.
The book has math drills that target specific parts of the math section, so if you need help with geometry, but are fine with algebra, this book has what you need!
While this book was specifically created by Barron to help you get a perfect score on the PSAT, this isn't the best option for most students.
The biggest disadvantage of this book is that most of the questions are a bit harder than what they would be on the real exam. This might be good if you are capable of finishing these harder questions in the allotted amount of time, but it might lead you to misjudge the timing on the actual PSAT.
It also only has 1 full-length practice exam, and while they did add an additional online exam recently, the difficulty level is still a bit too high.
The book is also a bit on the long side compared to the original Barron book which is great if you have time, but if you're like most high school students, the less time you need to spend to get results, the better off you are.
Books to Avoid
Many other website recommend books simply for the sake of recommending them, but we don't want to recommend something that won't actually help you which is why we have this section.
PSAT Prep Book 2016 by the PSAT Prep Team
The biggest issue with this book is that it hasn't actually been updated for the new PSAT exam.
The book blatantly lies to you by stating that it's for the 2016 exam when in reality it was written with the older exam in mind.
It also has terrible formatting, a plethora of typos, numerous errors, mistakes, issues, and anything else you can think of.
Here's a couple examples of the errors we found:
- The writing and language section only has choices A-D, but the answer key marks E as the correct answer for some of the questions.
- One of the reading sections asks questions about a completely different passage from the one that's given to you.
- The answer key and the questions don't always match up. A question might ask about a specific number, the but the answer explanation might talk about probability percentages.
Don't be fooled by the glowing Amazon reviews. Most of those people received the book for free and haven't actually had to take the PSAT.
Kaplan PSAT/NMSQT 2017
This is another book that looks good based on the cover, but is terrible in reality.
Some of the questions and answers don't match up, and while Kaplan promised to fix it in the new version of the book, the new version isn't out yet so we can't talk about whether they're telling the truth or not.
They also have blatant editing errors, answers that don't match up to any of the questions in the book, and overall the book feels like a mess.
They do offer a free online test, but you have to give them quite a bit of information when registering. This might not be an issue for some, but we don't like giving out our information unless we absolutely have to.
All in all, this book wasn't what we expected from a great publisher like Kaplan.
We know that you might have a ton of questions about the PSAT, so here are the answers to some of them!
How long is the exam?
The new PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes which is 35 minutes longer than the old exam.
How is the PSAT scored?
There are 2 section scores of 160-760, which means your total score will be between 320 and 1520.
How many times can you take the PSAT?
You can take the exam in 10th and 11th grade. Your junior year scores count towards National Merit qualifications, and for many schools you are forced to take it your junior year. Most people don't take it their sophomore year, so it's up to you whether you want to see what it's like or if you'd rather use books to study.
How many hours should you study for the PSAT?
Depending on how well you already know the material anywhere between 2-20 hours should be enough.
If you have to learn new material that number can increase greatly, but if you're just reviewing then about 10 hours should be fine.
What is the National Merit cutoff Score?
Each state has a specific cutoff score that changes year to year. For very competitive states like California, the cutoff score might be 1470, while for less competitive states like Alaska, the cutoff score might be 1400.
We hope this helps make a decision with which book you should buy for your upcoming PSAT exam.