The Digital PSAT – Your Questions Answered

Jul 11, 2023

This year, the PSAT will change from a paper-based test to a computer adaptive model. With rising Sophomores scheduled to sit for the PSAT this fall, families are bound to have questions about the new structure and features of the digital test – as well as about the PSAT in general. We endeavor to answer them here.

The PSAT – What is it and Why is it Important?

The PSAT is a standardized test that is administered to students in the fall of their sophomore year. It serves to give students the experience of taking a truncated version of the SAT. Additionally, students who achieve above specific qualifying score, and meet other academic requirements, will be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program – and have the opportunity to compete to win a college scholarship of up to $2,500.

Students also have the option to take a form of the PSAT in eighth and ninth grade (the PSAT 8/9). This test is just for practice and will not have any bearing on either college admissions or potential scholarships. The PSAT 8/9 will also be migrating to a digital platform; although, as of this writing, no practice materials are yet available.

How Can My Student Take The PSAT?

Most schools offer an administration of the PSAT for students during the school day in October of their sophomore year. If your student’s high school does not offer the test, they have the option of taking it at another local high school. Historically, the test has been offered on a single Wednesday in October, but as the test will be digital moving forward, schools have the option to schedule the test on any day in October. Some schools may have groups of students sit for the test on different dates. We advise that you speak to your school administrator to get further scheduling information. 

What is the Structure of the Test?

The test consists of two sections: a Reading and Writing section and a Math section. Each section contains two modules. The first module of each section is diagnostic: based on their performance in Module 1, students will then receive either a less or more difficult Module 2. 

Students who complete the more difficult Module 2 will have a higher ceiling score on a section than students who take the less difficult Module 2. Students will not be informed whether they have received the more or less difficult Module 2.

For each Reading and Writing module, students have 32 minutes to complete 27 questions, for a total of 64 minutes to complete 54 questions for the section.

For each Math module, students have 35 minutes to complete 22 questions, for a total of 70 minutes to complete 44 questions for the section.

Students can move freely between questions on each module, but cannot access questions in previously-completed modules.

Each section is scored on a scale of 160-760, with a total composite score range of 320-1540. The structure and scoring are very similar to those of the digital SAT (each SAT section is scored out of 800).

Note: The PSAT offers accommodations for students who qualify, including extended time, larger text, and a paper-based version. If you think your student may qualify, please reach out to your school administrator.

What Does My Student Need on Test Day?

On test day, students will complete the test on a personal device. Therefore, your student will need to bring a Windows or Mac laptop, an iPad, or a school-managed Chromebook that is fully charged, can connect to wi-fi, and has the bluebook app downloaded to it. 

Students will be provided with scratch paper to work through math problems and process of elimination. The bluebook testing environment includes a math formula reference sheet and a built-in DESMOS graphing calculator. Students are also allowed to bring a calculator from this approved list, if they feel more comfortable using their own.

Other than that, we recommend students get a good night’s sleep, bring plenty of water and snacks, and wear layers in case the testing room gets too cold or hot.

Is There Anything My Student Needs to Prepare Beforehand?

The College Board, the company that develops and administers the PSAT, recently released a full-length digital adaptive practice test on their website. We advise students to take this practice test, as it will not only give them a benchmark to see where they currently stand on the scoring scale, but also provide practice using the bluebook app, the platform on which the official PSAT – and official SAT – will be administered.

Additionally, Onsen program managers are available to help further explain the ins and outs of the PSAT and advise based on your student’s individual needs and practice score. If you think your student might hit the National Merit Scholarship threshold or you are looking to get a jump on the college prep process, we can connect you with one of our master tutors. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for further information.

Written by

Zachary Adler
Author Image Since 2010, Zach has been helping students achieve their college readiness goals, specializing in all sections of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and SHSAT. Prior to joining Onsen, Zach worked for a global investment firm, as well as in various roles in the education space. He has served as a youth mentor and has run college readiness information sessions for students in under-resourced communities. Additionally, Zach is a writer and filmmaker. He is an International Baccalaureate scholar and a graduate of Boston University.

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