Our Comprehensive Digital PSAT/NMSQT Guide

We understand the importance of supplying informative content to help you excel on the PSAT. By giving this breakdown of the PSAT testing points, we aim to help parents and students understand the critical focus areas and prepare effectively for the exam.

Starting this fall, the PSAT will be digital, bringing about significant changes. In this article, we supply comprehensive guidelines and essential details about the PSAT scoring system and the prestigious National Merit Scholarship program that awaits you.

Test Format:

The Digital PSAT encompasses 2 hours and 14 minutes, consisting of two main sections: Reading/Writing (Combined) and Math. Each section of the test includes two modules of equal length. It is worth mentioning that the digital PSAT format mirrors that of the digital SAT.

The examination begins with Module 1 of the Reading and Writing Section. For module 1, have 32 minutes to answer 27 questions. Within this timeframe, students have the flexibility to navigate between different questions within Module 1, but they cannot move on to Module 2 until the 32 minutes have concluded.

Upon completing Module 1, students continue to Module 2. Students have another 32 minutes to answer the following 27 questions. Similarly, they can move freely between questions in Module 2 during this duration, but they cannot return to Module 1 or continue to the Math section before its conclusion.

Note: After completing both Reading and Writing Modules, students receive a 10-minute break before they begin Module 1 of the Math section.

Integrating Technology:

As noted, in the pursuit of modernizing education, the College Board has adopted the digital PSAT format, which allows students to take the test on a computer or tablet. We have noted the critical details concerning the types of permitted technologies.

Choosing the Right Device:

To take the digital PSAT, students can use laptops, iPads, and school-managed Chromebooks. We strongly recommend referring to the College Board’s website for an updated list of approved devices and system requirements to ensure a smooth testing experience. It is crucial to have the Bluebook App installed and up to date before the test day.

Calculators for the Math Section:

During the Math section of the digital PSAT, students have the convenience of using the built-in graphing calculator provided by the Bluebook App. However, students can also bring their own approved calculator if they prefer. To ensure you have the correct calculator, consult the College Board’s website for a list of approved calculators for the digital PSAT.

Test Day Protocol:

Participating schools administer the PSAT. To register, students should reach out to their respective school counselors. For homeschool students interested in taking the test, it is imperative to contact participating local schools to secure a seat promptly.

Schools can offer the PSAT on any school day within the testing window, which spans from October 2 to October 31, 2023. Additionally, schools have the choice of conducting the test on Saturday, October 14, 2023. While schools may test separate groups of students on different days, it is essential to note that each student can take the PSAT only once during the testing window.

To create the best testing environment, schools must verify that their testing rooms have a reliable internet connection, ample power sources (despite students bringing devices with sufficient battery charge), proper seating arrangements, quiet surroundings, suitable lighting, and proper ventilation.

Furthermore, all testing rooms should have a visible clock accessible to all students, as well as a designated area to write or display Wi-Fi login information. Schools should refer to the College Board’s guidelines on testing room requirements and seating arrangements.

Unless schools provide computers for testing purposes, students must bring a fully charged laptop or tablet with the Bluebook application pre-installed, along with an accompanying charger. For those taking the test on a tablet, students may bring an external keyboard. The school will supply scratch paper, but students must bring their pens or pencils. Additionally, students can obtain an approved calculator, an external mouse, a watch without an alarm, and a snack.

Testing Environment Guidelines:

  • Ensure a quiet room with ample lighting and ventilation.
  • Make sure the testing location is near restrooms and the help room for technical support.
  • Supply a working clock that all students can easily see.
  • Set up a strong internet connection for seamless testing.
  • Create a designated area to write or display the Wi-Fi credentials.
  • Arrange for outlets or power strips to accommodate the testing devices.
  • Ensure that all devices charge for at least 3-4 hours.
  • Grant fair access to power sources while maintaining safety by avoiding overloading circuits.
  • Note: Students with more than 3 hours of testing time must have access to outlets.

Seating Requirements:

  • Ensure that all chairs have a backrest for comfortable seating.
  • Each student should have a large, smooth writing surface, such as a desk or a table, measuring at least 12 x 15 inches.
  • All students must face the same direction to maintain uniformity during testing.
  • If multiple students are seated at tables, the tables should be at least 6 feet long, with a minimum of 3 feet of space between students.
  • Students should not be able to see other students’ screens easily.
  • Partitions are only allowed if testing takes place in a computer lab.

Student Checklist:

  • Students should bring a fully charged computer or tablet with the Bluebook testing application installed.
  • Students should bring their charger and an extension cord for uninterrupted testing.
  • The students should bring pencils or pens, and the school will supply scratch paper.
  • An approved calculator is optional.
  • Optional items students can bring include extra batteries, an external mouse, and an external keyboard (for tablets).
  • A watch without an audible alarm is optional.
  • Students can bring a backup device if preferred, but the device cannot sit on the desk during the test.
  • Snacks and drinks are optional for the break.
  • For students with specific medical needs, they should bring EpiPens, approved medications, and medical devices, if applicable.

Scoring and National Merit Selection Index:

The PSAT/NMSQT is on a 1520-point scale, with each section yielding between 160 and 760. Combining the two section scores, students obtain a total score ranging from 320 to 1520.

In addition to knowing your total PSAT/NMSQT score, you will discover if you have achieved the entry requirements for the highly regarded National Merit Scholarship program. Participation in this program opens doors to significant financial assistance and esteemed merit scholarship opportunities for college.

The National Merit Selection Index Score determines entrance into the National Merit Scholarship program. To calculate this score, we add twice the Reading and Writing Section score to the Math Section score and then divide the sum by 10.

The formula is as follows: National Merit Selection Index Score = [(Reading and Writing score x 2) + Math score] / 10

By understanding how the National Merit Selection Index Score is calculated, you gain insight into your eligibility and potential recognition. Approximately 50,000 students qualify yearly, but only 15,000 will advance as National Merit Finalists.

To explore further details about qualification criteria and the various scholarship opportunities available, we encourage you to visit the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s website.

Computer Adaptive Testing:

Like the digital SAT, the digital PSAT is an adaptive test. But how does it work? Let us have a closer look. Module 1 features a combination of easy, medium, and complex questions with an average level of difficulty. However, in Module 2, the intermediate difficulty level depends on the student’s performance in Module 1.

If students perform well in Module 1, they will meet tough questions in Module 2. On the other hand, if their Module 1 performance is weaker, they will face fewer tough questions in Module 2.

So, what does this mean in terms of scoring? The digital PSAT employs Item Response Theory (IRT), a framework to analyze and model the connection between a test taker’s ability level and performance on specific questions.

According to IRT, the test taker’s ability level and the question difficulty influence the probability of correctly answering questions. In simpler terms, not all questions carry equal weight in scoring. Answering a problematic question correctly on the digital PSAT will enhance a student’s score more than answering an easy question correctly. This implies that having access to more challenging questions paves the way for a higher potential score.

For further information, refer to the College Board’s detailed explanation of calculating scores for the digital PSAT.

Reading and Writing

The Reading and Writing section of the exam has a total duration of 64 minutes and consists of 54 multiple-choice questions. Each question is associated with a short passage or a pair of selections, offering a refreshing change from the lengthy reading passages with multiple queries. The new sections are concise, ranging from 25 to 150 words, and encompass diverse topics. Some selections even include informational tables and graphs to add depth and context.

The Reading and Writing part of the test has two modules, each lasting 32 minutes and containing 27 questions. To enhance the organization and comprehension of the material, the questions are in groups, according to the respective question types. This sequential arrangement ensures students have a focused and streamlined experience while practicing similar skills.

Now, let us explore the different content and question types in each module:

1. Craft and Structure (28% of the section):

  • Words in context: This testing point focuses on your ability to understand the meaning of words as you use them in a given passage.
  • Text structure and purpose: Here, you will be asked to analyze the structure of a passage and determine the author’s purpose in writing it.
  • Cross-text connections: This part assesses your understanding of how different passages or texts relate.

2. Information and Ideas (26% of the section):

  • Central ideas and details: This testing point evaluates your ability to locate the main ideas and supporting details within a passage.
  • Command of evidence (textual & quantitative): You will be required to use evidence from the text, both textual and quantitative, to support your answers.
  • Inferences: Here, you must draw conclusions and make inferences based on the information in the passage.

3. Standard English Conventions (26% of the section):

  • Rhetorical synthesis: This part focuses on your ability to analyze and combine information from multiple sources to develop a coherent and well-supported piece of writing.
  • Transitions: Here, you will identify appropriate transitional words or phrases to enhance the flow and organization of a passage or essay.


The Math section of the digital PSAT also has two modules, each lasting 35 minutes and consisting of 22 questions. The entire Math section spans 70 minutes and includes 44 questions. To keep the experience engaging, the modules incorporate a progression of question difficulty. More straightforward questions on the test are at the beginning, while harder ones are towards the end.

Regarding question format, 75% of the Math section consists of multiple-choice questions, while the remaining 25% requires student-produced responses. This ensures a comprehensive evaluation of your mathematical skills.

The digital PSAT Math section covers four main content domains: algebra, advanced math, problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry. Questions from all four parts appear in both modules.

Now, let us take a closer look at each content domain and what it entails:

1. Algebra (35% of the section):

  • Solving linear equations with one variable
  • Solving linear equations with two variables
  • Understanding linear functions
  • Solving two linear equations with two variables
  • Working with linear inequalities in one or two variables

2. Advanced Math (32.5% of the section):

  • Simplifying and evaluating equivalent expressions
  • Solving nonlinear equations with one variable and systems of equations with two variables
  • Exploring nonlinear functions

3. Problem Solving and Data Analysis (20% of the section):

  • Understanding ratios, rates, and proportional relationships with units
  • Working with percentages
  • Analyzing one-variable data, including distributions and measures of center and spread
  • Analyzing two-variable data using models and scatter plots
  • Exploring probability and conditional probability
  • Drawing inference from sample statistics and calculating the margin of error
  • Evaluating statistical claims based on observational studies and experiments

4. Geometry and Trigonometry (12.5% of the section):

  • Calculating the area and volume of geometric shapes
  • Understanding lines, angles, and triangles
  • Applying right triangle concepts and basic trigonometry
  • Analyzing circles and their properties

Important Note:

Students are allowed to use a calculator throughout the entire Math section of the PSAT. To facilitate this, the Bluebook App offers a Desmos graphing calculator that is built in. However, students also have the option to bring their own approved calculators. It is essential to refer to the College Board’s official website for a comprehensive list of approved calculators that students can use for the Digital PSAT.

Preparing for the Digital PSAT:

At Ramana Coaching Center, we understand the importance of thorough preparation for the PSAT, particularly for those students aspiring to achieve National Merit recognition. As the landscape of the PSAT changes this year, with the introduction of the digital format, it becomes even more crucial to familiarize oneself with the test’s new dynamics.

To excel in the digital PSAT, it is highly recommended for test takers to undergo several full-length practice tests. Currently, we offer comprehensive practice tests designed for the digital SAT only, allowing students to become acquainted with the format and adapt to its unique features. Taking practice tests has consistently proven substantial growth in student performance.

We are committed to assisting parents and students in their digital PSAT journey. In addition to our digital PSAT program, we offer a six-month full-length digital SAT program. Our adaptive computerized practice tests supply valuable insights into performance analysis, ensuring students receive detailed answer explanations. Our goal is to provide you with original and practical guidance while keeping the highest standards of integrity. If you have any questions about the PSAT/NMSQT or any other educational matter, contact our dedicated team of professionals.

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