Is the SAT Harder Than the PSAT? | Full Comparison of the Levels of Difficulty

Many of you are familiar with the tests that high school students need to take when applying to college. One of them is the SAT. It is a college entrance exam and is used to determine if a student is ready for college or not.

It is administered by the College Board and has 3 sections:

  • Math
  • Evidence-based reading
  • Writing

It also has an optional essay meaning you can opt to do it or not.

PSAT is a preliminary test mostly taken by sophomore and juniors as a practice for the SAT. It is also used to qualify for the National merit scholarship. The duration for the test is 1 year, the maximum score is 1520 and sections include:

  • Math
  • Evidence-based reading
  • Writing

To boost your PSAT score, read our PSAT prep book reviews.

So, is the SAT harder than the PSAT? Keep reading to learn more. If you are in the process of preparing for your SAT, take a look at the best SAT books which promise you success on your exam.

Is the PSAT harder than the SAT?

No, PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT. It has easier questions, is a little shorter and does not have an optional essay. PSAT is a practice for the SAT and its content and format resembles that of the SAT.

It offers a great SAT practice and is taken once per year in October. On the other hand, the SAT is a bit hard. You have to sit in the test center for 3 hours answering head-scratching to easy questions.

The best way to tackle a challenging test is by preparing early. We covered when to start studying for SAT in a separate article. Start by taking the PSAT practice test. You will be able to find out your strengths and weaknesses.

Set a score goal. Have a score goal that you can realistically accomplish. Make a study schedule based on your goal score. Set a certain number of hours that you will be studying for your test.

The SAT and the PSAT Compared

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  • This is an admission test for colleges
  • It is a multiple-choice test given by the College Board
  • The score for each section is from 200 to 800. The highest score is 1,600.
  • It has an optional essay section
  • Students take the test during the fall of their senior or the spring of their junior year
  • SAT is 3 hours long. If you choose to do the essay, the test will be 3 hours and 50 minutes
  • It is used to show your strength and readiness for college
  • It is administered 7 times in a year; March, May, June, August, October, November, and December.
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  • This is a preliminary test taken as a practice for the SAT
  • It is also used to award merit scholarships
  • It has 3 sections; Math, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 160–760 to score 1520
  • The test is 2 hours 45 minutes long
  • It has no optional essay section
  • It is slightly easier than the SAT
  • It has a different scoring scale
  • It has fewer questions

SAT is offered several times in a year, March, May, June, August, October, November and December while PSAT is offered once per year, in October. With the SAT, you have many chances of taking the test and raise your score.

SAT is 3 hours long while PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes. It is 15 minutes shorter and a little less tiring. 

PSAT is a test taken as a practice for the SAT. The high performers of the test are usually given scholarships.

Another big difference between SAT and PSAT is the price. SAT costs $45.50 and $60.50 with an essay. PSAT is sometimes offered free though its usual price is $16. How Much Is the SAT? - click for the full costs breakdown.

The highest score for the SAT is 1,600 while for PSAT it is 1520.  

SAT is given in schools and test centers while PSAT is only given in schools.


Key Similarities


1.Both tests will assess your skills in reading, writing, and math. They have a no calculator math portion and a calculator allowed portion.

The reading section will test your ability to read a passage, writing and language will test your ability to identify and fix grammatical errors while math section will test your ability to solve equations, create and analyze relationships using percentages, ratios, just to name a few.

2.SAT and PSAT have almost the same content. They contain multiple-choice questions plus grid in questions for math sections.

doing the test

SAT multiple questions include the following:

  • Reading section has 52 multiple-choice questions. It also has pairs of passages for reading
  • Writing section has 44 multiple-choice questions. It tests editing skills, use of vocabulary, and fixing grammatical errors.
  • The math section has 58 multiple-choice questions.


3.You will receive cross-test scores and sub scores for both tests.

How Are the SAT and PSAT Different? - Detailed Comparison

Level of difficulty

The tests assess the same skill. However, the SAT is longer, has difficult reading passages and more challenging math concepts. There is also time pressure with the SAT. For example, a student is supposed to answer 52 questions under 65 minutes in the reading section.

Keep in mind there are passages.


What makes PSAT different from SAT is its purpose. PSAT is a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program. Top performers of this test are usually given scholarships.

Also, PSAT is a practice for the SAT. Students take this test to familiarize themselves with the types of questions they will tackle when doing SAT.

On the other hand, the SAT is a requirement of many colleges when they are admitting students. They use the test to measure if a student is ready to join a college or not.

How many times the Tests are administered

SAT is given 7 times a year. March, May, June, August, October, November and December. With so many times to take the test, you can retake your test to improve your scores. But how many times can you take the SAT? You should know that too.

PSAT is only given once per year and that is October.

The Essay

SAT has an optional essay while PSAT does not have. Some colleges may require this essay so be aware of the requirements of the college before applying.

Cost and where you take the test

SAT costs $45.50 without essay while its $64.50 with essay. PSAT is mostly free for students whose schools pay for it. The normal cost of the PSAT is $16. SAT can be taken in schools and test centers while PSAT is administered in schools only.


The SAT is slightly longer than PSAT with 15 minutes. The duration of the SAT is 3 hours while for PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes. SAT is longer with the essay. It will take you 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Sections, Timing and Scoring Compared

The duration of PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes. There is no essay section with PSAT. The sections include the following:

  • Calculator Math: 45 minutes with 31 questions
  • No calculator Math: 25 minutes with 17 questions
  • Reading: 60 minutes with 48 questions
  • Writing and Language: 35 minutes with 44 questions

SAT runs for 3 hour. If you choose to do the essay, your test will run for 4 hours. The sections of the SAT are as follows:

  • Writing and Language:35 minutes with 44 questions
  • Calculator Math: 55 minutes with 38 questions
  • No calculator Math: 25 minutes with 20 questions
  • Reading: 65 minutes with 52 questions
  • Essay: 50 minutes

The biggest difference between these 2 tests is the essay test. SAT has an optional test while PSAT does not have.

SAT is a test that requires time management especially if you will take the essay.


The highest score for PSAT is 1520 while for SAT is 1,600. PSAT score is lower compared to the SAT because it has fewer questions and is a bit easier. Use your PSAT score to determine what you will get on the SAT.

The Verdict: What Makes SAT Slightly Harder Than the PSAT?

SAT and PSAT prep books

The amount of time and number of questions differ between SAT and PSAT. SAT has more questions and is 15 minutes longer than PSAT.

SAT is considered harder because it is longer and forces students to move a bit more quickly in the math sections. Your speed and mental endurance will be tested unlike in PSAT where you have good time to tackle your questions.

Both exams test the same skills and they are writing, language, reading, and math. PSAT is a preliminary of SAT hence is more of a warm-up for the real test, SAT. Use PSAT to assess your strengths and weaknesses so you can prepare very well for the SAT.  

Also, by taking PSAT, you will familiarize yourself with the kind of questions asked in the SAT.

With the PSAT, you can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition if you perform very well in the test.


PSAT is easier and the scores reflect that. It is scored between 320 and 1520 while the SAT is scored from 400 to 1,600.

Optional Essay

There is an optional essay in the SAT which is a requirement of some colleges. There is no essay in PSAT. The essay on the SAT makes the test longer. It tests grammar, spelling and sentence structuring.

Colin Ma

As the first hire of Study Prep Lounge I primarily help with growth strategy, but also assisted with managing our small team of writers and designers. Another aspect of work I've taken up is writing and I thoroughly enjoy it! I grew up in Arcadia, CA, and went to school at University of California, Santa Barbara before transferring to University of California, Irvine where I got my BS in Computer Science. I am currently working full time in software and am also fulfilling my prerequisites so I can apply to Medical School.

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