If you’ve just settled into your back-to-school groove, then you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the importance of the SAT and the ACT. But for any sophomores or juniors reading this, you’ve probably heard an awful lot about a third standardized test: the PSAT!

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Wait, there’s a third standardized test I have to worry about? Not necessarily! Although PSAT scores can be an important factor in your college admissions if you score high enough, for most students, the PSAT is only going to be used to hone their SAT test prep skills. Still, to put your mind at ease, here are five important questions and answers in this exclusive PSAT 101 roundup!

What is the PSAT, and what is it used for?

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT for short, is a shortened version of the SAT that is typically offered to sophomores and juniors every year. To put it even more simply, the PSAT is a practice SAT!

If you’re a sophomore taking the PSAT, then you don’t need to worry at all. Treat this exam as a shortened practice run of the SAT designed to ease you into the experience. If you’re a junior taking the PSAT, then you might be able to use exceptionally high scores to apply for the National Merit Scholarship. For more information on whether you qualify for this scholarship, click here.

But to cut a long story short, the PSAT is training mode for the main event that is the SAT. So don’t stress about it too much!

How long is the PSAT?

Since we’re looking at the PSAT as training mode for the SAT, it follows that the actual process of training isn’t quite as challenging or taxing as it is for the real test. Thus, what you can expect from the PSAT is, quite simply, a shorter SAT.

Whereas the SAT is four sections long, the PSAT is only three. We kick off with a 60-minute Reading section with 47 questions, move on to a 35-minute Writing and Language section with 44 questions, and finally round off the exam with a 70-minute Math section with 48 questions. There is no essay on the PSAT, but not to worry: the SAT essay is no longer a thing anyway.

The test itself is two hours and 45 minutes long, which is just 15 minutes shy of the SAT’s three-hour running time.

What are the primary differences between the PSAT and the SAT?

Aside from the length and duration of the tests, there aren’t many crucial differences between the two.

For instance, as you can see, there is only one Math section on the PSAT. SAT Math, on the other hand, is broken up into two sections: the calculator and no-calculator sections. For the PSAT, a calculator is allowed. Also, whereas the SAT is typically offered around five or six times per year, the PSAT is only offered twice a year.

Otherwise, there isn’t any fundamental difference between the nature or difficulty of the questions and passages on the PSAT vs the SAT. Once again, on the PSAT, you are practicing for the SAT.

Will my PSAT scores predict my future SAT scores?

Absolutely not!

For freshman and sophomores, the PSAT is most likely going to be your first exposure to SAT-level questions and passages. So if you’re nervous about the PSAT and how it’s going to affect your college admissions, don’t be! Use the PSAT as an opportunity to get a feel for the test and see which areas you might need to work on.

For juniors taking the PSAT, your results will only matter if you choose to apply for the National Merit Scholarship. Otherwise, your PSAT results will have no effect on college admissions at all. The PSAT is all about practice, practice, practice!

Does the PSAT matter?

The PSAT matters because it’s an amazing chance to hone your test-taking skills and strategies. Just how much the PSAT matters is going to vary — National Merit Scholars will need to score quite high, but even if you aren’t eligible for this particular scholarship, that’s okay!

The PSAT matters not because it’s as important as the SAT or the ACT —- it isn’t. But anything that serves to help you improve your SAT results and prepare you for the big exam is a valuable investment of your time and energy. Don’t sleep on the PSAT just because colleges don’t look at it; use this as your opportunity to train for the big test-prep marathon that is the SAT.

For more information on how to prepare for the PSAT, click here for a free consultation.