The PSAT is a standardized examination available to students in the 11th grade and earlier. If you're in 11th grade, a top PSAT score will qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship, which can provide you with money for college. Because of this association, another name for the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or NMSQT. Taking the PSAT is also a way of practicing for future standardized tests, such as the SAT, that will be important in the college admissions process.

Who Can Take It

The PSAT is usually taken by juniors in high school, but sophomores and even younger students may take the test to practice or prepare for the SAT or American College Test (ACT) standardized tests. Signing up for the PSAT is done through school counselors or other educational professionals; students cannot directly register for it. The test has a $14 fee, but a school can waive this fee for juniors.

When and Where to Take the Test

The PSAT test is offered each fall, usually in October. Tests can be taken on two separate dates in case of scheduling conflicts. The test is issued at high schools; if you are home-schooled or go to a school that does not offer the PSAT, you can still sign up for it and take it at a different site.

How the Test Is Scored

The PSAT is administered in three sections that test critical reading, math and writing skills. Tests are largely multiple choice and scored with 1 point for a correct answer, zero points for an unanswered question and -1/4 of a point for an incorrect multiple choice question. The PSAT also includes a few nonmultiple-choice math questions; no points are deducted for incorrect answers to these questions.

Each of the three sections has a minimum score of 20 points and a maximum score of 80 points. The scores of the three sections are totaled to produce a score called the selection index. If you have a math score of 42, a writing score of 57 and a critical reading score of 61, your selection index will be 160. Each year, about the top 3 percent of 11th-graders receive recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program. About a third of those go on to win a scholarship. For the class of 2015, students with a selection index of 201 and above qualified for the National Merit Scholarship.