New PSAT Practice Test

Exciting news! The College Board has just released a new practice PSAT with answer explanations.

Just to be clear this is a PSAT, not an SAT. Juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October. But the content and difficulty level should be very similar to the new SAT. The Official Guide for these tests won’t be available until June, but there are plenty of resources for students who want to start studying now (see below).

There are four sections:

1. Reading: 60 minutes, 47 questions
2. Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
3. Math (no calculator): 25 minutes, 17 questions
4. Math (calculator): 45 minutes, 31 questions

Here are my thoughts.

Reading:
Since they’ve scrapped the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, this is really just a reading comprehension test. A couple of the passages have charts, but the questions about them are very easy—similar to the easiest questions on the ACT science section. Two of the passages are old: excerpts from Jane Austin’s Emma and a political piece by Andrew Carnegie. The rest are new: an article about social networking, a science passage about hibernating bears, and a paired passage about bringing back extinct species. My advice: read National Geographic.

Writing and Language:
If you want more study materials for this section, there’s already a book with 375 practice problems. It’s called the Official ACT Guide! That’s right: the new SAT Writing and Language section is almost exactly like the ACT English section. The only real difference is the inclusion of a single graph on one of the passages. Other than that, it’s the same old stuff: relevance, tone, subject-verb agreement, idioms, pronouns, possessives, comma splices, putting sentences in logical order. The questions are even worded similarly to those on the ACT. My advice: take every English section in the Official ACT Guide.

Math (no calculator):
Like I said about the sample questions released a few weeks ago, the math is significantly more challenging than what we’re used to seeing on the SAT and PSAT. These questions look like they came from a Math 1 Subject test—except on this section, you can’t use a calculator! I found myself reaching for my vintage TI-82 so frequently I had to put it in a drawer. I know a lot of students who use their calculators for even the most basic addition; for them, this section will pose a challenge.

Interestingly, the questions are not in order of difficulty. There are four grid-in questions, and both the grid and the instructions are exactly the same as on the current test. Frequent topics on this section are: setting up equations, systems of equations, functions, and quadratic equations—in other words, all the hardest stuff from the current SAT. My advice: take AP math classes.

Math (calculator):
While it was comforting to have the calculator at my fingertips, it was no help on questions like this:

If the equation 110x + y = 1,210 represents the number of free samples, y, that remain to be given away x days after a coffee shop’s promotion begins, what does it mean that (11, 0) is a solution to this equation?

Your calculator isn’t going to tell you that! Many of the problems include graphs, tables, scatterplots, and histograms. (Again, the Official ACT Guide would be helpful; the science section has similar charts and graphs.) There are also several challenging physics problems (e.g. finding the maximum height of an arrow shot into the sky). My advice: take AP physics.

Summary
Compared to the current SAT (and the PSAT that was retired in 2014), the math is more difficult. The reading and writing are, in my opinion, a little easier (mainly due to the lack of obscure vocabulary questions). But don’t panic about the math. Even though it’s harder, students will be scored relative to their peers. (In other words, if it’s harder for you, it’s harder for everyone.) Students who take challenging courses in high school and make good grades should be fairly well prepared. If you’re taking the PSAT in October and want to start studying now, my advice would be to get the Official ACT Guide and the SAT Math 1 and 2 Subject Test Guide (just do the Math 1 tests; Math 2 is very difficult and mainly geared toward students who plan to major in computer science, engineering, or similar fields.)

Note: The answers to the new practice PSAT are all on the last page of the Answer Explanations. (Really annoying!) So just scroll to the end when you’re ready to check your answers. There’s no way to score it yet (scaled scores are based on student performance, and no one has taken it), but you can find your percent correct for each section by dividing the number correct by the total number of questions. Basically, it works just like grades in high school: 90% and above is great; 80-90% is good, and so on.

More Than A Teacher is currently accepting students for one-on-one tutoring for the new PSAT and SAT. If you live outside the Austin area (or just want to avoid traffic), we offer remote tutoring via Skype. Just send us an email to set up an appointment!

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