The PSAT is a practice SAT test. It is virtually the same as the SAT but it is shorter and does not include an essay. Some students take it in their sophomore year and junior year. For juniors, it counts as a screening test for a potential national merit scholarship. Here is information on the merit scholarship process:
About 1.5 million students in some 22,000 high schools enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually when they take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®). This serves as an initial screen of program entrants. Of these entrants, some 16,000 Semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis, in numbers proportional to each state’s percentage of the nation’s high school graduating seniors. Semifinalists are the highest-scoring program entrants in each state and represent the top one percent of the state’s senior students.
To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, Semifinalists have to fulfill requirements to advance to Finalist standing. Each Semifinalist submits a detailed scholarship application, which includes essays and information about extracurricular achievements, awards, and leadership positions. Semifinalists also have to have an outstanding academic record, be endorsed and recommended by a school official, and earn SAT scores that confirm their qualifying test performance. From the Semifinalist group, some 15,000 meet Finalist requirements. By the conclusion of the competition, a select group of Finalists are chosen to receive prestigious National Merit Scholarships totaling nearly $35 million. Winners are the Finalist candidates judged to have the strongest combination of academic skills and achievements, extracurricular accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous university studies. Scholarship winners represent less than 1% of the initial pool of student entrants, based on official statistics released by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Although very few students in any school actually receive a merit scholarship, I recommend all students take the PSAT. It is very good practice for the SAT. It is given in October and although the schools do let the students know that it is being given, sometimes students claim they didn’t find out, so parents should be aware that it is available and make sure their child signs up for it. There is also a practice test for the ACT, called the PLAN, and all high schools also administer this test.