How Long Is the PSAT? Tips to Manage Your Time Wisely

The PSAT/NMSQT takes 2 hours and 45 minutes without breaks. It has four sections and 139 questions, so time management can make or break your score.

portrait of Jackalyn Beck
by Jackalyn Beck

Updated August 15, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
Share this Article
How Long Is the PSAT? Tips to Manage Your Time Wisely
Image Credit: FG Trade / E+ / Getty Images


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, more commonly known as the PSAT/NMSQT or just PSAT, is an exam administered by the College Board to help high school students prepare for the SAT. Students usually take the PSAT during their sophomore or junior year of high school.

While the test has no direct bearing on college admission, it's still important to get a good score on the PSAT.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Students who score in the top 1% of all juniors in the U.S. can qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Each year, just 15,000 students are selected as scholarship finalists.

How Long Is the PSAT Test?

The PSAT is 3 hours and 25 minutes, including breaks. There are 40 minutes built in for breaks and administrative tasks. As such, the actual time spent taking the test is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The first five-minute break happens after section one, and the last five-minute break takes place after section three. You'll also get 30 minutes factored in for administrative tasks, including receiving your test materials.

How Does PSAT Timing Differ From SAT Timing?

The PSAT and SAT are both important tests to take, but there are many differences between the two. For starters, the PSAT is a preliminary test and is intended to be an easier practice exam.

The SAT lasts three hours, excluding breaks, making it a slightly longer assessment than the PSAT. It also has 15 more questions than the PSAT, for a total of 154 problems. Overall, the SAT is more fast-paced, giving students less time to spend on each question.

How Many Questions Are on the PSAT?

As a practice exam, the PSAT gives test-takers the opportunity to hone their time management skills in preparation for the SAT. Since the PSAT is broken into four sections, it is easy to calculate how much time students should spend on each of the 139 questions.

PSAT Section Number of Questions Time Time per Question
Reading 47 questions 60 minutes 77 seconds
Writing and Language 44 questions 35 minutes 48 seconds
Math (No Calculator) 17 questions 25 minutes 88 seconds
Math (Calculator) 31 questions 45 minutes 87 seconds
Total 139 questions 2 hours 45 minutes

Source: College Board

5 PSAT Time Management Tips and Strategies

When looking through the below strategies, consider the entire test, not just individual sections. Also, remember that the PSAT is a golden opportunity to get ready for the SAT. So, naturally, SAT and PSAT tips overlap.

1. Work Through the Easiest Questions First

After the test starts, students should look through that section's questions and solve the easiest problems first. Each question is worth 1 raw point, regardless of how difficult it is.

Starting with the simple questions can also give test-takers plenty of time to answer the questions they feel more confident in.

2. Skip Difficult Questions

If you come across a question that's particularly tricky, skip it — just make sure you mark it in your test booklet to remind yourself to come back to it later. Moving around within a section or skipping long questions can help test-takers better manage their time.

This is especially important since there is no penalty for wrong answers on the PSAT and SAT. It is acceptable to make an educated guess on problems that take too much time to solve completely.

3. Cross Out Obviously Incorrect Answer Choices

A better alternative to guessing is using the process of elimination to identify answers you know are incorrect. This allows test-takers to think more clearly about the available options.

The process of elimination also improves the odds that you'll get the question right, even if you're mostly just guessing.

4. Work Through Time-Consuming Questions

Once you've gone through and answered all the questions you're confident in, go back through that section and spend time solving the more time-consuming problems you initially skipped.

At this point, focus on the questions you for sure know how to solve but will take you longer to answer. This allows you to avoid wasting time and brainpower on questions you don't know how to solve at all.

5. Save Time to Answer Difficult Questions You Skipped

Finally, test-takers should go through and try to answer the most difficult questions.

If you don't think you'll be able to answer a question, regardless of how much time you have left, try to eliminate any obviously incorrect answers before making an educated guess. There's no penalty for wrong answers, so don't leave any questions unanswered.

Some students find it helpful to have a dedicated answer choice for guessing, such as always choosing answer choice C for questions they have no idea how to solve.

How to Manage Your Time for Each PSAT Section

The PSAT is broken into four sections, just like the SAT. This means practicing time management for each section is a transferable skill. By improving your ability to manage time on the PSAT, you could potentially earn a higher score on the SAT.

Here are some tips to help you manage your time wisely on each PSAT section.

Reading Section

The best strategy for acing the Reading section of the PSAT is to skim the passages and take notes rather than reading each individual word. While this might seem counterintuitive, for most students, reading the whole passage simply takes too much time.

It's also important to make notes and mark important text. This allows you to identify correct answers faster when you flip between the reading passage and its set of questions.

Unlike when reading the passages, don't just skim the answers — a single word can make a major difference.

Writing and Language Section

In the Writing and Language section, you'll get only 48 seconds per question. Of all the sections on the PSAT, this part gives test-takers the least amount of time per problem, so time management is extra important.

One way to combat the short timeline is to look through the questions before skimming the passage. This allows you to actively look for solutions and answer the questions while you read.

Math Sections

There are two Math sections on the PSAT: a No Calculator section and a Calculator section.

The first section takes 25 minutes and consists of just 17 questions. This means students will have 88 seconds to solve each problem without a calculator.

In the second Math section, test-takers may use a calculator but must answer 31 questions in 45 minutes, which comes out to around 87 seconds per question.

Skipping difficult and time-consuming questions is vital in both Math sections. Remember, even the challenging questions are worth 1 point. So whether you know the answer or not, do not leave any questions blank.

Figuring Out the Right PSAT Pace for You

Before sitting for the PSAT, be sure to take practice tests. The College Board is a great place to find free practice exams and other materials. Khan Academy, which partners with the College Board, also offers resources to help students prepare for the PSAT.

Every test-taker is different, and the PSAT is a great opportunity to figure out your unique pace and tendencies. Remember that the PSAT is a preliminary exam for the SAT.

After receiving you PSAT results, go through and take note of which sections you need to improve on. You should closely examine your scores and understand how long you took on each section. Reviewing your performance can help you improve and adjust your strategies for the SAT.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.