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Most students in a traditional, four-year high school take the PSAT/NMSQT in their third year, as juniors. An increasing number of students opt for (choose) an earlier exam, as sophomores or even younger students. Taking the test early can be helpful because you’ll probably improve your scores on subsequent (later) exams.

If you’re in a nontraditional high-school program, take some time to think about what’s best for you. In a three-year high school, you can take the exam in the October preceding your graduation, followed by the SAT in December or January.

If you’re likely to spend five years in high school, go for the second-to-last October for the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT in the autumn or winter of your last year before graduation.

Home-schoolers, use these guidelines and work backward from the date you expect to complete the high-school curriculum.

If you’re vying (competing) for a National Merit or National Achievement Scholarship, you may not be eligible for an award if you take the exam at the wrong time.

The exam is offered only in mid- to late October, on either a Wednesday or a Saturday of the same week. Each school offering the PSAT/NMSQT chooses one of those two days. You sign up through your high school in early September and pay your fee. Take this opportunity to pick up a student guide — a booklet from the College Board describing the exam.

You can also find a downloadable student bulletin on the College Board’s website. Click the PSAT/NMSQT button at the top of the screen.

The College Board charges about $14 for each PSAT/NMSQT given in the United States, but schools may tack on a couple of bucks to cover administrative costs, and the College Board adds a few dollars for overseas exams.

Your school can request fee waivers (a free test) for any junior in financial need. If you’re in that category, talk to your school officials as soon as possible — ideally, during the spring preceding the test.

Many schools order exams for every 11th grader, but just to be sure you’re on the list, check with a school official. If you plan to take the exam in 9th or 10th grade, inform your school by the end of the school year before the test, if possible. If your high school doesn’t offer the test or if you’re home-schooled, call a local school.

Still can’t find a testing center? Check the College Board website or call the College Board (609-771-7070) for the names of schools near you that offer the exam. Don’t wait! Some schools offer test spots to guests, but many have limited seating and operate on a first-come, first-served basis. By mid-September of the year you want to take the test, you should know where you’re going on test day.

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