What's on the Test- PSAT 8/9

July 15, 2019 0 Comments

Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test for 8th and 9th Graders

Many students are familiar with the SATs, or Scholastic Aptitude Test. This college entrance exam is famously known for being extremely long, and rather difficult logic and reasoning skill-based test. But while many options exist to demonstrate college readiness, the SATs are still widely used for college acceptance. And though this can be a very intimidating exam, the PSATs are designed to help students track their progress for taking the SATs.

The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test has been designed to test students on their logic and reasoning skillsets while keeping their educational level in mind. Simply put, they are an *easier version of the SATs. However, it is important to note that “easy” is a general and relative term to describe a standardized test. The level of difficulty of PSAT questions in comparison to SAT questions is easier, simply because it is not practical to test a student’s competency on subject matter that won’t be taught to them until they’ve reached tenth or eleventh grade. The PSATs keep subject matter consistent with grade levels, so as a result, would be considered just as difficult to the student taking the exam as the SATs would be to a student seeking college acceptance.

One other large component of an exam’s difficulty comes from the length. Exercising educational skillsets at such a quick rate is mentally exhausting. While the SATs are already considered difficult in content comprehension, much of the struggle for SAT takers is also trying to keep focus throughout the entire exam. The PSATs also take this factor into account when designing the exam, which is why it is significantly shorter than the SATs. Students taking the PSATs will get a good dose of the content comprehension levels the SATs will assess them on, but also begin preparing them for the uphill battle of lengthy standardized tests.


Number of Questions

Time Limit (minutes)




Writing & Language









Click Here for SAT Exam Breakdown




Writing & Language








177 minutes (≈ 3 hours)

*SAT test includes an optional 50-minute essay, in addition to calculated testing subjects and allotted time.

The exam lasts for two hours and twenty-five minutes, with a brief, approximately five-minute break following each hour of testing. The breaks are known to be short as the exam is designed to mimic the feel of taking the complete SATs, knowing the length has been greatly reduced.


Now that you know how the PSAT 8/9 compares to the SATs and the general structure of the test, you’re probably wondering what the content truly consists of.

The language assessment consists of a reading test, as well as a writing test. The reading section will always include approximately four to five passages, depending if there is a “passage pair” used for a set of questions. These passages always range on a variety of topics to give students breadth in their readings, providing samples of classic literature, historical documents or speeches, and selections pertaining to both social sciences as well as foundational, or common core, sciences. While none of the passages will require knowledge of science, as it is not a subject that is being assessed, the passages may utilize additional data or references suitable for the student’s grade level and be used for assessment within the question sets. The questions will all range in a variety of styles, similar to their passages, but consistently staying focused on assessing the student’s ability to utilize the text to draw conclusions about what the text means. The questions may draw upon specific higher-level vocabulary, the overall style or tone being implemented, or identifying the claims and relationships between author and audiences.

These same skills will be utilized within the writing section of the test. It’s important to know that unlike the SAT, the PSAT 8/9 does not have an essay portion to the test. There are many options students can utilize for assessing and building upon the skills needed for the essay requirement on the SAT, however, the PSAT 8/9 will only assess students via the multiple-choice based section of the test. These questions will require a student’s knowledge on the same various topics within the reading section. However, this section will differ by giving the student samples and asking them to identify the weaknesses within them in order to edit it. This will require more understanding of English conventions and deeper knowledge of the foundations for writing, without the student needing to provide samples of their own writing.

Opposite the language section of the PSAT 8/9, the test will assess students on their math skills. The math section is also divided into two parts, a non-calculator portion and a calculator portion. *Please note that the calculator a student uses must be considered test appropriate and approved for use by the College Board standards. The math section will focus on algebra, problem solving, and data analysis. This section will utilize graphs, charts, and other data visualization methods to assess a student’s understanding and solving of complex equations. While the non-calculator portion will not assess a student on skills as in depth when a calculator is needed, it is important for students to understand how to complete math problems with and without calculator. The calculator is not meant to substitute understanding, but rather serve a higher purpose of solving for critical thinking. Simultaneously, it will be up to the student to use their time appropriately when a calculator is available, as not all computations require one. One of the concepts used when designing the math section is the fluency of a student to understand the material and equations in order to properly designate time with a calculator to find a solution. This concept is reinforced with the grid-in answers that students must provide. Several of the questions, both on the non-calculator and calculator sections, will require students to generate a numerical answer and provide it via a numbers grid-in bubble sheet. The instructions on how to fill out these bubble sheets will be provided in test, and may also be viewed on the college board website and within our full-length study guide.


Click here to preview our full-length study guide or visit the official college board website for more information.