This month, the College Board will administer the new PSAT/NMSQT for the first time, ahead of the new SAT exam to be introduced starting in March 2016. According to the College Board, which designs both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT, the tests will draw on the same sort of knowledge and skills. With the test just around the corner, here’s what students and parents should know about the new PSAT/NMSQT:
- The PSAT/NMSQT serves as a practice test for sophomores and juniors before they take the SAT in the spring of their junior year. Score reports and feedback from the PSAT can help students focus on areas that they need to improve and demonstrate what students’ strengths are.
- There is no longer a guessing penalty; students will only receive points for correct answers, not deductions for wrong ones.
- The PSAT consists of three sections: Reading; Writing and Language; and Math. All told, the test lasts for 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Let’s look at each section in turn:
Students will be tested on their reading comprehension, reasoning skills, use of evidence, and understanding of the meanings of words context.
The reading test will take 60 minutes to complete and consists of 47 multiple-choice questions.
Students will be required to answer questions on the basis of short passages (500-750 words) from a variety of sources (literature, history, science, etc.)
Students will not be expected to have outside knowledge of the content discussed in the reading selections; they must answer on the basis of the information in the texts (which may also be accompanied by graphs, charts, tables, etc.)
Writing and Language:
Essentially, students are asked to revise and edit texts to demonstrate their writing skills and knowledge of English grammar, usage and punctuation.
This section consists of 44 multiple-choice questions based on students’ ability to revise and edit texts (again, these may be supplemented by graphs, charts, tables and the like).
Students will be asked questions to revise and edit four short passages (400-450 words). The section will be completed in 35 minutes.
In addition to grammar, punctuation and usage, students will be asked to make “context-based improvements to texts,” and revise those passages for development and organization.
The math test consists of two sections: one section permits the use of calculators (31 questions and 45 minutes); the other does not (17 questions and 25 minutes).
In total, the math section lasts 70 minutes and consists of 48 questions: 40 multiple-questions and 8 student-produced responses in which students must grid-in their answers.
The math sections test skills including algebra, problem solving and data analysis, as well as geometry and measurement.
Students may not use calculators on their smartphones or cellphones.
In addition to serving as a practice test for the SAT, the PSAT also serves to determine National Merit Scholarship contestants (NMSQT stands for “National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”).
- Only the scores from the junior year PSAT/NMSQT will count for the purposes of the National Merit Scholarship competition.
- Students may wish to take the test in the sophomore year as a practice for junior year, however, and they can use the information from score reports to point to their test-taking strengths and weaknesses.
- PSAT scores will be used to determine whether students advance in the competition on the basis of their Selection Index (twice the sum of the reading, writing and math section scores). 2/3 of students (34,000) who advance will receive letters of commendation and be out of the competition, while 1/3 (16,000) will advance to semifinalist status. At that point, semifinalists will need to submit additional application materials.
Freshmen and sophomores: Remember! Reading widely and often is one of the best ways to prepare for the PSAT, other standardized tests and college!