Format, Structure and Question Types of PSAT Question

The PSAT, which is alternatively called NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a standardized test administered for most 10th to 11th-grade students, designed to measure the ability to understand and process elements of reading, writing, and mathematics. It is basically a 'preliminary SAT' exam via which students get a fair idea of the format, types of questions, content, and timeline they are going to encounter during the SAT. Besides, the PSAT also helps in qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Since 2015, the students are being tested on the basis of a redesigned PSAT pattern. The new format emphasizes the contextual meaning of a word and how a choice of word can shape the tone, meaning, and impact.
Here, we will let you know all about the PSAT format, structure, and question types that you need to know to be prepared.


The PSAT/NMSQT has undergone significant changes in recent years, including in its scoring mechanisms.

The following table outlines the format and structure of the PSAT:

The total duration of the test is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Total testing Time
Number of Questions
Contents/Skills Covered
Evidence-Based Reading
60 minutes
47 questions

The passages on this section are taken from World or US literature, History/Social studies, Social Science and Science.

Evidence-Based Language and Writing
35 minutes
44 questions

The grammar, content and the style of the passages may contain some errors which need to be fixed through the answer choices.


  • Calculator Portion
  • No Calculator Portion

70 minutes

  • 45 minutes
  • 25 minutes

48 questions

  • 31 questions
  • 17 questions

Heart of Algebra, problem-solving and data analysis; the passport to advanced math and additional math topics.

Reading Test

The Reading Test is based on text passages, and all questions are multiple-choice with four answer choices. The Reading Test always includes the following:

  • One passage from a classic or contemporary work of the US or global literature.
  • A passage about psychology, economics, sociology, or some other social science.
  • Two science passages that examine new developments and foundational concepts in Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.
  • One passage or a pair of shorter passages from either a US founding document or a global text inspired by foundational government documents.

Writing and Language Test

The new Writing and Language Test asks a student to think like editors by reading passages and identifying errors and weaknesses. All questions are based on passages and have multiple choice answers. This section does not test specific topics or content knowledge. All of the information required to answer the questions correctly is provided by the passage. The passages used in this section cover a wide range of topics, including history, social studies, science, and the humanities.

Math Test

The Math Test has been redesigned to include two portions: one using a calculator, and one without. Both portions of the test focus in-depth on the three areas of math most widely used in most college majors and careers: algebra, problem-solving and data analysis, and manipulations of complex equations. Besides these three major areas, the Math Test will also test students knowledge of geometry, trigonometry, and common theorems or formulas.

The directions of the question types of the PSAT below are representative of what students will encounter on test day.

PSAT Reading Section

The PSAT includes one 60 minute Reading section. All questions are multiple-choice and based on passages. Reading Test passages range in length from about 500 to 750 words and may come from a variety of fields.

Some passages are accompanied by informational graphics, such as tables or graphs; questions ask you to interpret data and to synthesize the information presented graphically with that in the associated passage.

Passages that have similar subject matter are sometimes paired and accompanied by questions that require you to make important connections between the passages as well as to understand each passage on its own.

After reading each passage or pair, you have to choose the best answer to each question based on what is stated or implied in the passage or passages and in any accompanying graphics.

PSAT Language and Writing Section

The PSAT Writing section consists of a total of 44 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 35 minutes. The Writing section asks you to read passages, find mistakes and/or weaknesses, and fix them. Writing and Language Test passages range in length from about 350 to 400 words, and they are well-written pieces covering topics related to careers, history/social studies, the humanities, and science.

Each passage is accompanied by a number of questions. For some questions, you will consider how the passage might be revised to improve the expression of ideas and for other questions, you will consider how the passage might be edited to correct errors in sentence structure, usage, or punctuation.

Some questions will direct you to an underlined portion of a passage. Other questions will direct you to a location in a passage or ask you to think about the passage as a whole.

A passage or a question may be accompanied by one or more graphics (such as a table or graph) that you will consider as you make revising and editing decisions.

After reading each passage, you have to choose the answer to each question that most effectively improves the quality of writing in the passage or that makes the passage conform to the conventions of standard written English. Many questions include a 'NO CHANGE' option. Choose that option if you think the best choice is to leave the relevant portion of the passage as it is.

PSAT Math Section

The Math Test assesses your knowledge of a finite number of math concepts. Mastering these concepts is critical in order to score your highest on the test.

The PSAT Math questions focus on four areas: the heart of algebra; problem-solving and data analysis; the passport to advanced math, and additional topics in math, including limited geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.

There are two types of questions: multiple-choice and grid-in. The multiple-choice questions provide four possible answers. Students must determine which of the four choices is the correct solution to the question. The grid-in questions require students to calculate and grid the correct answers; no answer choices are given. Some grid-in questions can have more than one correct answer.

By taking the PSAT tests you will find where your strengths are and where you can improve during middle or high school.

If you want to know more about this, you can check on Best PSAT Preparation Books.

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