PSAT VS SAT – What’s Different and What’s the Same?


Are you confused what the PSAT, SAT, and other random jumbles of letters mean?

Don't worry. We're here to help!

In this post we will cover:

  1. The different types of exams,
  2. The similarities between the exams
  3. And the differences between them so you don't ever have to be confused again! 🙂

The Types of Exams

There's one SAT exam, but multiple different PSAT exams which adds to the confusion.

1. The PSAT 8/9

You can take this test in 8th (or 9th grade) to check how ready you are for the the next suite of PSAT/SAT exams and what you need to focus on if you want to do well on the SAT.

The sections here are a bit easier than the other exams, and while the scoring is similar to the SAT and PSAT, there's a couple of small differences.


The PSAT (also known as the NMSQT) is the exam you can take your junior year of high school in order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.

There is also an exam called PSAT 10 which is the exact same as the regular PSAT except for high school sophomores and you can't get the National Merit scholarship when you take it.

This is the test most people refer to when talking about the PSAT and this is the test you should study for if you want to go to college for free.​

It's a bit easier than the SAT, and the score is out of 1520 instead of 1600.​

3. The SAT

​This is the big one that everyone knows.

It measures your college readiness and is the test you most likely will send to colleges with the hopes of getting in.​

Similarities Between the PSAT and SAT

There's a surprising number of similarities between the PSAT and the SAT which makes sense because the PSAT is supposed to prepare you for the real thing and show you how well you'd do on the SAT.

1. The Sections

The exam sections cover the same exact subjects.

For math there's algebra, trigonometry and a dash of statistics.

There's vocab questions, reading questions and other types of questions that are the same on both exams.

​The way the sections are structured is also the same. 

Both exams are divided into reading, writing, and math components, and you will get a subscore for each section.

2. No Guessing Penalties

Both of the exams finally allow you to guess without losing any points!

On the original SAT exams if you put in the wrong answer you would lose .25 points per question. Now the test makers decided to be a bit nicer and you can guess however much you want with no consequences.

Differences Between the PSAT and SAT

With all those similarities between the exams you might think that they're basically the same. While they are quite similar, they also have a couple of important differences that change how you should prepare for both.

1. The Essay Section

The PSAT does not have an essay section while the SAT does.

Aren't you glad you don't have to write an essay for the PSAT? Me too.

2. Difficulty Level​

The ​PSAT is generally easier than the SAT. 

Some of the SAT questions are more abstract while the PSAT tries to focus mostly on concrete analysis and understanding questions. ​

3. The Scores

The score range of the PSAT is 320-1520 while the score range for the SAT is 400-1600.

The range of scores is 1200 for both, but the difference in the maximum scores is there because of the difference in grade level.

This means that if you get a 1520 on the PSAT, you're not guaranteed to get a 1600 on the SAT, because the SAT is a bit harder.​

4. The Timing

The SAT is ​a grueling 3 hours and 50 minute ordeal (if you do the essay), while the PSAT is only 2 hours and 45 minutes. What a breeze, right?

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