Top PSAT Tips. Best Test-Taking Strategies

A person writing the PSAT
April 26, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

Are you looking for some PSAT tips? You’ve come to the right place.

Preparing for the PSAT might feel daunting, especially with over 1.5 million students vying for success in the National Merit Scholarship Program. However, by setting realistic goals, making a solid study plan, and using practice tests and study materials, you can tackle the PSAT confidently. 

Remember, every step you take brings you closer to your goals. So, keep at it, and you'll be well on your way to success. Continue reading for some strategies, tips, and common mistakes to avoid when preparing for the PSAT.

What Is the PSAT?

The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, is essentially a practice version of the SAT exam. It gives students a chance to get familiar with the format and content of the SAT while also providing an opportunity to potentially earn scholarships. 

Known as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), it's commonly taken in both 10th and 11th grade. Scoring well on the PSAT in junior year can qualify students for National Merit Scholarships, which amount to $180 million in awards each year. 

The test assesses skills in reading, writing, and math over a duration of two hours and 45 minutes. Unlike the SAT, the highest possible score on the PSAT is 1520.

How to Prepare for the PSAT

Prepare for the PSAT by making a study plan, taking practice exams, setting specific goals, relying on resources, and considering personalized online SAT tutoring to maximize your score potential. Let’s take a closer look. 

Make a Study Plan

To get ready for the PSAT, start by marking the test date on your calendar and dividing your study time. Plan specific study sessions each week, making sure to include practice questions, content review, and practice tests. Consider your schedule to stay consistent in your preparation.

Take a Practice Digital Exam

Taking a practice test in the digital format is an essential step in your PSAT preparation. Download Bluebook, the official practice test software, and allocate a quiet, distraction-free environment to take the test. 

Set aside a couple of hours to complete the practice test, making sure to mimic test conditions as closely as possible. Pay attention to your performance on different sections of the test and identify areas where you need improvement. This practice exam will serve as a baseline assessment and help you gauge your readiness for the actual PSAT.

Download Full-Length Practice

If you have approval to take the digital PSAT/NMSQT on paper, you can download and print a full-length practice test to simulate the test-day experience. Find a quiet space where you can work through the practice test without interruptions. 

Set a timer to match the time limits of the actual test and try to replicate the testing conditions as closely as possible. After completing the practice test, review your answers and identify areas where you struggled or made mistakes. This will help you pinpoint areas for further study and improvement.

Set Concrete Goals

To stay focused during PSAT prep, set clear goals based on your target score and break them down for each test section. For example, aim to complete a set number of math practice questions daily or improve accuracy on specific topics, using Khan Academy for personalized practice and progress tracking.

Consider 1:1 Private Online SAT Tutoring

For personalized, focused support, consider enrolling in our 1:1 private online SAT tutoring. Our 99th percentile SAT tutors specialize in helping students increase their scores by providing tailored, virtual tutoring sessions. 

Through personalized instruction, our tutors identify and address areas where you need the most help, helping you maximize your score potential and achieve your desired outcome on test day.

Tips for the PSAT

Preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT requires careful planning, goal-setting, targeted practice, and dedication. Consider the following tips to help you get ready for the PSAT:

  • Practice Time Management: During your study sessions, simulate test conditions by timing yourself on practice sections. This will help you get accustomed to the pace of the exam and ensure you can complete each section within the allotted time.
  • Focus on Weak Areas: Identify your weakest subjects or question types and prioritize studying them. Allocate more time to areas where you struggle, whether it's math concepts, grammar rules, or reading comprehension strategies.
  • Review Mistakes: After completing practice questions or exams, thoroughly review any mistakes you made. Understand why you got a question wrong and learn from it to avoid similar errors in the future.
  • Utilize Flashcards: Create flashcards for key vocabulary words, math formulas, grammar rules, and other important concepts. Reviewing flashcards regularly can help reinforce your understanding and improve retention.
  • Stay Consistent: Consistency is key to success. Schedule regular study sessions and stick to your plan, even when it gets tough. Consistent practice over time yields better results than cramming at the last minute.
  • Take Breaks: Don't forget to take breaks during your study sessions to avoid burnout. Short breaks can help refresh your mind and maintain focus during longer study periods.
  • Stay Positive: Maintain a positive attitude and believe in your ability to improve. Celebrate your progress along the way, no matter how small, and stay motivated to reach your goals.
  • Seek Help When Needed: If you're struggling with certain topics or need clarification on concepts, don't hesitate to seek help. Reach out to teachers, tutors, or online resources for assistance and clarification.

Remember that the PSAT is not just a practice version of the SAT—it can also lead to valuable scholarship opportunities and enhance your college application. By following these tips and making the most of the available resources, you can maximize your chances of success on the PSAT/NMSQT and beyond.

Best Strategies to Successfully Take the PSAT

To do well on the PSAT, focus on choosing questions wisely, crossing out wrong answers, and taking educated guesses when needed. Let’s go over each of these strategies to ensure you’re well-prepared for the PSAT.

Pick and Choose

  • Answer questions in any order, focusing on the ones you find easiest first.
  • Skip tough questions and come back to them later.
  • Remember to stick to the section you're supposed to work on.

Cross Out Wrong Answers

  • Read each answer choice and eliminate ones that are obviously wrong.
  • This boosts your chances of selecting the right answer.

Take a Guess

  • Even if you're unsure, take a guess.
  • You won't lose points for wrong answers, so always give it a shot.
  • Use a "Letter of the Day" for questions you can't answer.

By following these PSAT strategies, you can tackle the PSAT confidently and improve your score.

Common Mistakes

Students frequently make mistakes on the PSAT by not reading instructions carefully, struggling with time management, guessing without eliminating wrong choices, forgetting to double-check their work, and more. Let’s get into it. 

  • Skimming Instructions: Ensure to read them carefully to understand the test format.
  • Poor Time Management: Strive to balance time across sections to avoid rushing or leaving questions unanswered.
  • Random Guessing: Instead of guessing randomly, eliminate obviously wrong choices to increase your odds.
  • Skipping Double-checking: Take the time to review your work and catch any errors before moving on.
  • Neglecting Practice Tests: Use practice exams to identify weak areas and improve your test-taking strategies.
  • Ignoring the Format: Familiarize yourself with the digital test format to avoid confusion on test day.
  • Underutilizing Resources: Make the most of available prep materials and resources to prepare effectively.
  • Getting Stuck on Tough Questions: Don't spend too much time on challenging questions; skip them and come back later.
  • Misinterpreting Questions: Take a moment to ensure you understand the question before answering.
  • Rushing Through Answer Choices: Carefully consider all options before selecting your answer to avoid overlooking the correct one.

To truly understand how to prepare for the PSAT, you need to know the mistakes to avoid. So keep these in mind as you prep.


Looking for valuable PSAT tips to ace the exam? Here are some frequently asked questions to guide you on your journey to success.

1. What Is a Good PSAT Score, and How Can I Achieve It?

A good PSAT score falls between 1210 and 1520, placing you in the top 10% of test takers, while the average score is around 920; achieving a perfect score of 1520 is the highest possible.

2. How Many Times Can I Take the PSAT, and Should I Retake It?

Students can take the PSAT up to three times during high school, with opportunities in freshman, sophomore, and junior years, but it's essential to consider whether retaking it is necessary based on individual goals and performance.

3. Can I Use a Calculator During the PSAT, and If So, Which Type Is Allowed?

During the PSAT, you can use a calculator for all questions in the Math section. You have the option to use the built-in graphing calculator provided by the digital test platform or your own approved calculator. The decision should be based on your comfort and familiarity with the tools.

4. Are There Any Special Accommodations Available for Students With Disabilities?

Students with documented disabilities may be eligible for testing accommodations on the PSAT. These accommodations can include extended time, extra or extended breaks, and accommodations for reading and seeing.

5. Should I Focus More on Specific Sections of the PSAT, Such as Math or Reading?

When getting ready for the PSAT, concentrate on all sections: math, writing, and reading. Prioritize areas where you feel less confident and use resources like ALVS SAT tutorials to improve your skills across the board.

Final Thoughts

Getting ready for the PSAT requires solid planning and smart tactics. From mapping out your study plan to using practice exams, there are key strategies and PSAT tips that can boost your performance. Remember to avoid common mistakes like skimming instructions and skipping practice tests. 

Ultimately, aiming for a good PSAT score can open doors to scholarships and strengthen your college applications, so it's worth putting in the effort to prepare effectively. Hopefully, once you receive your score, you'll feel proud of your accomplishments and confident in your future academic pursuits.

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