1. The PSAT or the Preliminary SAT is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. On the other hand, the SAT or the Scholastic Assessment Test is a standardised test which is the most widely used for almost all college admissions in the United States. Though they seem to be different from each other, both in purpose and structure, one has to completely understand and appreciate that they hold related benefits. The purpose of both the tests need to be looked into individually first.
2. The PSAT allows the students to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship that can range from letters of recommendation to monetary rewards ranging to $2500 to larger awards. These scores do not have any bearing on the college admission process unless the student becomes a National Merit Holder in which case he/she can earn a few bonus points during the admission process. Some PSAT high scorers can also get monetary scholarships from select colleges.
3. The SAT scores allow students to get into colleges of their choice as most colleges in the US accept these scores as a student’s readiness factor for college.
4. While students around the world can take both tests, only high school students who are S. citizens or U.S. lawful permanent residents planning to become U.S. citizens are considered for the scholarship. While any high school student from around the world, with can seek admission into any US college.
5. The structure of both the PSAT and SAT is quite similar. The SAT includes Reading, Writing and Language and Math (with and without a calculator). The essay is optional, making it the fifth section. The PSAT has two sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing but no essay writing.
6. Both the tests do no penalise the test takers for any incorrect answers.
7. The time allowed for each test varies slightly with the PSAT allowing students slightly more time with fewer questions (165 mins for 139 questions) while SAT offers 154 questions in 180 minutes (+50 mins for essay).
8. The scoring scale for both these tests varies from each other slightly with PSAT score ranging to a high 1520 while SAT scores can range from 400 to 1600.
9. This clearly indicates that both these tests are essentially identical barring their final purpose and for a reason the PSAT is considered by many as a forerunner to the SAT as it allows the students to get a feel of the SAT before they actually attempt it.
10. As the PSAT has a similar question and time structure, students can choose to attempt it as it can work as an indicator of their readiness for SAT and eventually as an indicator for college readiness. It will also serve a dual purpose of allowing them to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship in case they meet the threshold scores for the same.
11. The PSAT is held once a year generally in October and as most SAT preparations should ideally be going on at this time, the students need not prepare separately for PSAT. The SAT prep will equip them to successfully attempt the PSAT too.
12. The PSAT holds multifarious benefits as far as testing goes. It not only allows the students to qualify for the Scholarship, it arms them with practice and strategy planning before they take the final plunge into the SAT. These are undeniable benefits that college aspirants cannot and, in fact, must not miss.
One can safely say that the PSAT and SAT may seem to serve different sets of students; however, they are intrinsically linked together and should be used in tandem for maximum benefits.