PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, & PSAT/NMSQT – Why so many and what’s the difference?!

PSATThis week marks the end of College Board’s spring PSAT testing season. In fact, this year represents the first instance in which College Board even offered the PSAT in the Spring. Before you start panicking, it’s important to note that the PSAT offered this Spring is not the same PSAT that is used for national merit. There are now three different versions of the PSAT. They are the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT. Why are there so many different versions of the PSAT and what’s the difference?!

If you regularly visit this website, you are probably familiar with the PSAT/NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. To quickly recap the basics of the NMSQT – the PSAT/NMSQT exam is administered in October of junior year of high school; a high enough score on the PSAT (a score that is typically within the top 1/2 of the top 1%) automatically qualifies a student to be a National Merit Semifinalist. Achieving National Merit Semifinalist status is desirable for many reasons, not the least of which is the prestige associated with this accomplishment, but primarily because it leads to large merit based scholarships. It’s a big deal. If you’re interested in learning more about the PSAT/NMSQT, I suggest the following articles:

  1. What Does My New PSAT Score Mean?
  2. UPDATE 2: 2016 National Merit Semifinalist Cutoff Score for Texas – NEW ESTIMATE
  3. A Brief History Of The PSAT/NMSQT

What you may not be familiar with is the fact that for the last two years the ACT has narrowly edged out the SAT as the more popular admissions test in the United States. This precipitated a number of changes by College Board (like the new SAT!) in an effort to recapture this lost market share. Among these changes was the introduction of different PSAT exam types. These new PSATs are designed for younger students, with the hope almost certainly being that if students begin taking the PSAT as college readiness assessments, rather than whichever state mandated grade specific test they would take instead, then they will be more familiar and comfortable with the PSAT brand and thus more likely to take the SAT for the purpose of college admission.

Now that you know why College Board introduced these new versions of the PSAT, and why the PSAT is important, let’s talk about these different exams in a bit more detail.

PSAT 8/9

As is implied by the name of this exam, the PSAT 8/9 is typically taken in eighth grade or at the very beginning of high school, in ninth grade. The PSAT 8/9 is very similar to the PSAT/NMSQT in terms of format, with the big differences being that PSAT 8/9 is shorter and it emphasizes academic concepts that are more appropriate for this grade level, particularly in the math sections. See below for a more detailed chart outlining the differences in the math sections between the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT/NMSQT. This exam’s primary purpose is to familiarize you with the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT, although as mentioned above it could serve as a good barometer of college readiness. As a parent or student, the biggest thing to be aware of is that some schools may use this exam to determine AP class potential – a high score may indicate to the school that you or your student should consider signing up for AP classes the following year.

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PSAT 8/9 Math Compared to PSAT/NMSQT



The PSAT 10 is taken by tenth graders to further familiarize students with the PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT 10 is virtually identical to the PSAT/NMSQT. That means same number of questions, same time per section, same format, etc. The most significant difference between the PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT is what these exams are used for. Namely, the PSAT/NMSQT is used to qualify students for national merit, and the PSAT 10 is not. One interesting item to note is that you do not necessarily have to be in 10th grade to take the PSAT 10, although it is primarily designed and intended for students in that grade level. For students who are in English learning programs, or for students who struggle academically, they may opt to take the PSAT 10 as 11th graders. To be clear though, even if you have the option to take the PSAT 10 as an 11th grader, you should not – it will always be the better choice to take the PSAT/NMSQT in 11th grade in the hopes of qualifying for national merit. On the flip side, academically gifted 9th graders, with the permission of their high school, may register for the PSAT 10.


As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the PSAT/NMSQT is a big deal. This has been written about extensively on this site, so I won’t revisit this point in detail here. What you might not know about the PSAT/NMSQT test is you do not have to wait until 11th grade to take this exam. Similar to academically gifted 9th grades taking the PSAT 10, 10th graders, with the permission of their high school, can take the PSAT/NMSQT. It is important to note that if you take the PSAT/NMSQT in 10th grade, although you will receive a Selection Index Score, that score will not qualify you or disqualify you for national merit. Only the 11th grade PSAT/NMSQT can qualify you for national merit (unless you are graduating early, in which case it is the PSAT/NMSQT you take the year before you graduate).

The reason for this post was an anxious parent asked us why her 10th graders school friend received a Selection Index score and her son did not. So, to answer that question specifically – the reason his friend received a Selection Index Score is because his friend took the PSAT/NMSQT and not the PSAT 10. However, these are the same test, and while it is helpful to a Selection Index Score to makes evaluations and judgments about how and what to work on to improve your score, they functionally serve the same purpose in terms of exposure to the PSAT.

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