4 Ways the SAT is Different from the PSAT

For many high school sophomores and juniors, the PSAT is the first step towards the college application process. Known as the Practice SAT, the PSAT serves as a first glimpse into what the SAT is like, mirroring the SAT in question format and tested topics.

But wait! If the PSAT has more or less the same format as the SAT, what distinguishes the two?  While it’s true that the PSAT mirrors the SAT, there are still some key differences you need to be aware of before you take the SAT. From the registration process to how they affect college decisions, read on to find out how, and why, the SAT differs from the PSAT.

Colleges don’t count the PSAT, but they count at the SAT

You may be wondering if colleges take your PSAT score into account, but know that only your SAT score counts during admissions! The PSAT actually serves a different purpose than the SAT does: the PSAT assesses how you might fare on the SAT, while the SAT is used for college applications. By taking the PSAT, you’re mainly trying to get a feel for how you’ll do in a standardized test setting.

But even though the PSAT doesn’t count towards college admissions, it does count towards the National Merit Scholarship, a scholarship program that could have you receiving $2,500 towards your college education! Based on how well you do on a national level, your PSAT score could put you in the semifinalist NMS pool.  If you make the semifinalist pool and then later get a qualifying SAT score, you may be eligible for a $2,500 scholarship.

The SAT has more test dates than the PSAT does

The PSAT takes place twice a year, but there are seven SAT test dates throughout the year. While the PSAT schedule consists of only two dates in the fall, the SAT has registered test-taking dates every October, November, December, January, March, May, and June!

You can definitely use this increased number of test dates to your advantage. Since colleges take your highest SAT scores for each section, you can take the SAT again if you’re not satisfied with your scores. Just don’t take them too many times – colleges look down on that. Try to aim for no more than three times.

Be sure to also register early and pay the fees that apply to you! Though there are more SAT test dates, there are also many more college-bound students taking the SAT, so you’re not always guaranteed a spot if you appear as a stand-by. Registration deadlines normally close about a month before the actual exam, which means you’ll want to plan before that date.

With the SAT, you’ll need to register yourself

Your school may have helped you register for the PSAT, but registration for the SAT depends entirely on you. PSAT registrations are normally done through high schools, which request the necessary PSAT materials and choose one of the two fall test dates. However, schools don’t help you register for the SAT, so you’ll have to navigate the entire registration process yourself.

You need to start by creating an online account with College Board. This online account will not only give you access to data about any schools you’re interested in, but it’s also necessary for you to choose which SAT tests and SAT test dates you want. Since all of this will depend on your application deadlines, make sure to keep a close eye on any SAT test dates you want. This is especially important if you’re thinking of applying early to any colleges. It’s generally a good rule of thumb to register at least one month before you intend to take an SAT test, especially since spots will fill up fast!

The SAT is longer than the PSAT

When you took the PSAT, you were tested for your math, critical reading, and writing skills in a total of five sections. The same areas will also be tested on the SAT, but be prepared for a longer assessment, including an essay.

Instead of completing five sections like you did on the PSAT, you will be sitting through a total of ten sections on the SAT. Unlike the PSAT, each subject consists of three sections, including one essay requirement for the writing section. This means that when you take the SAT, you'll have three math sections, three critical reading sections, and two writing sections plus one essay.

Then there’s the experimental tenth section. Every SAT test date, College Board releases a tenth section to determine the types of questions that could be on a future SAT test. This section can be an extra math, critical reading, or writing section, meaning that you’ll need to write a fourth part for one of the subjects! Lucky for you, the experimental section doesn’t count towards your SAT score. But here’s the catch: College Board, the organization that runs the SAT, never indicates which section is the experimental one, so you’ll still need to try your best on every part since you won’t know which part will count!

The five extra sections mean that instead of taking a test for three hours like you did on the PSAT, you’ll be in the testing room for four hours. You do get a break, though, so be sure to bring a snack that will take you through the longer test time!