The PSAT Test
Free Practice Aptitude Test
High school students all over America are familiar with the PSAT. The test is standardized and is taken the year, or years, before students sit for the SAT.
The SATs are standardized tests that students take in the later years of high school to help determine where they will go to college. The results are submitted as part of their college applications.
Many students take the PSAT as a practice for the SAT, but there are many other benefits to taking the test.
What Is the PSAT?
The test can be taken in both the 10th and 11th grades and can only be taken once a year. The test is two hours and 45 minutes long and tests reading, writing and math skills. The highest possible score is 1520.
Those who earn a high score on the PSAT during their junior year can qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, with $180 million awarded each year.
While the SATs are used as part of a student’s college application, the PSATs are not. The PSATs are administered by individual high schools.
Why Do Students Take the PSAT?
There are many reasons why students should choose to write the PSAT.
Practice for the SAT
Both the PSAT and the SAT test the same skills and knowledge, so taking the PSAT is a good warmup for the big test. It can also show students where their strengths and weaknesses are to help with more focused studying.
Those who score well on the PSAT will be in the running for a National Merit Scholarship. PSAT scores are automatically submitted to the program.
To qualify, students must be enrolled in a high school in the United States, or a US citizen, with the intention of graduating and attending college right after.
While students can take the test earlier, they are required to take it again in their junior year, or their second to last year before high school completion, to be eligible for the scholarship.
Out of all the entrants, approximately 50,000 with the highest scores will qualify for recognition in the NMS program. These high scorers are notified in September through their schools.
In September approximately 34,000 of these students will receive letters of commendation for their academic performance but did not make the semi-finalist list. Some of these students qualify for scholarships sponsored by businesses and corporations.
Approximately 16,000 students will qualify as semi-finalists and are the highest scorers from each state.
Finally, in February 15,000 semi-finalists are notified if they have moved to the finalist list before winners are selected. Beginning in March, those receiving scholarships are notified and receive a $2,500 payment.
If students do not qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, they can still try for a corporate-sponsored award. Corporate sponsors can offer awards for children of their employees or the community. They may be renewable for four years or a one-time payment.
College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships
Officials from each sponsor college will select winners for their own awards from the finalist list. The awards are renewable for four years of undergraduate study.
When Do Students Take the PSAT?
The PSAT is offered each year in October, and most students write it in the 10th and/or 11th grades.
There are different sections to the PSAT, and each takes a different amount of time. The entire test takes approximately three hours, including break times.
Number of Questions: 47
Time to Complete: 60 minutes
Students will be tested on understanding evidence, analyzing history, social studies, science and understanding words in context.
Students will need to read a passage and answer questions looking at the main ideas and key details.
In the reading test students will need to interpret data presented in the passages provided that relate to literature, history and social studies.
Command of evidence questions will ask students to decide which passage provides the best evidence for the question.
Reading Sample Question
Passage taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that is no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Select an answer:
Gatsby’s belief in the green light was significant because:
a) It showed his difference from the other characters in that he had belief in the American dream and a better life
b) He had more hope than any of the others
c) His goal of marrying Daisy had been immature and wrong from the start
The correct answer is: a)
Writing and Language
Number of Questions: 44
Time to Complete: 35 minutes
Students will need to fix grammatical errors such as verb agreement and punctuation, as well as revise words and phrases to improve a passage of text.
Students will also be tested on the placement of sentences and the purpose of transition words.
Writing and Language
Select the correct answer:
Kids are a wonder they can be honest and sincere with their thoughts and emotions. they have not yet learned how to cause someone pain and they have joy in everyday life experiences.
What needs to be changed?
a) wonder, and They
d) None of the above
The correct answer is: a)
Number of Questions: 47
Time to Complete: 25 minutes (no calculator), 45 minutes (with calculator)
While one section of the math work allows a calculator, the other does not.
The math section contains multiple choice questions with four answer choices and short answer questions with choices being zero to nine.
Math with Calculator Sample Question
Daisy is staying at an inn that charges $109 per night plus a 7% tax. If guests stay more than one night, the tax is lowered to 5%. Daisy stays a total of three nights and orders room service one night at $52.45. What is her total bill?
Select an answer:
The correct answer is: c)
Three nights is $327. Tax for three nights (one at 7% and two at 5%) is $18.53. Then add room service at $52.45.
Math with Calculator Sample Question
Grace decided to drive back to college after Spring Break. The trip is 200 miles. She stops along the way to pick up a friend, driving 14.2 miles off the highway and then back on. Closer to school they hit a detour that takes them 10 miles out of the way. How far did they travel in total to get to school?
Select an answer:
a) 310 miles
b) 238.4 miles
c) 265.3 miles
The correct answer is: b)
Add 200 miles plus (14.2 miles x 2) plus 10 miles.
What to Expect on the PSAT Test
There are several areas that students need to be prepared for when taking the PSATs.
Words In Context
Students will need to find the proper meaning of the word or phrase by looking at the context in which it appears.
Some questions may ask about infrequently used words that students do not know well.
Command of Evidence
These questions rely on answers to the previous question. Students will need to identify the text that provides the best evidence to the answer you reached in the previous question.
Students need to choose textual evidence that best disputes, weakens, strengthens or supports their statement. This evidence can be facts, writing style, tone, personal stories or infographics.
Problems Grounded in Real-World Context
Students will be given questions that are based on real-world experience. Questions on writing and language will ask for improvements to texts from humanities, social science, careers and science.
In evidence-based reading and writing, questions may feature graphs, charts and passages from social science and other career areas.
The math section involves problems in social science, science and other real-world scenarios.
Analysis in Science and History/Social Studies
Students will need to apply reading, writing, math and language skills to answer questions in history, science and social studies. Students will need to use skills used in school and life to look at issues in politics, global events, recent discoveries and health and environmental issues.
Students will need to read and understand text, solve problems in science and social science and revise texts to work with the data given.
Math That Matters Most
The math section deals with Heart of Algebra questions, Passport to Advanced Math and problem-solving and data analysis. The Heart of Algebra looks at linear equations and systems, while Passport to Advanced Math focuses on complex equations and the work they require.
Problem-solving and data analysis uses ratios, proportional reasoning and percentages to solve problems in different fields.
How Is the PSAT Scored?
Students receive a score between eight and 38 on the reading, writing language and math tests. They also receive a score from 160 to 760 for evidence-based reading and writing and math.
The scores of the two areas are added together to give the student a score between 320 and 1520.
Top PSAT scores are between 1,210 and 1,520.
PSAT scores are available in early December for students by logging onto their College Board accounts. Results are also sent to the student’s high school.
How to Register for the PSAT
Students need to sign up for the PSAT through their high school. Their guidance counsellor should have the information needed.
Tips for PSAT Preparation
Taking the PSAT can be stressful for some students, as well as requiring some work to prepare. Below are some tips to get you ready.
- Find a reputable test package. There are many companies that offer practice test packages. Ensure that you have one that represents what the PSAT will be like. Both Kaplan and Khan Academy offer free practice tests.
- Review sample questions. Once you have completed the practice tests, review your answers, and make notes on where you need improvement. Do not waste time studying areas you are already strong in.
- Practice time management. Since the sections of the PSAT are timed, practice answering your practice questions under the same conditions. This will help you focus on answering the questions quickly and accurately without panicking.
- Practice with a friend. A practice session with a friend can help, especially if they have different strengths or weaknesses than you do. They may have different strategies as well for tackling certain questions that could work to your advantage.
- No negative scoring. There are no penalties on the PSAT for answering a question wrong, so it is okay to go ahead and guess. You can also leave the question until later as you can go back or use a process of elimination to find your answer.
- Take care of you. The PSAT is only so important. Take care of yourself with just as much attention. Get a good night’s sleep the night before and keep your energy up by eating proper meals, and not filling up on junk food and sugary drinks. Stay well hydrated and eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test.
What to Bring to the PSAT
There are a few essentials that you need on the day of the PSAT. Check these off before leaving home.
- Admission ticket. Students can find their admission ticket on the College Board site and must bring it with them.
- Photo identification. Acceptable photo identification is needed for admission. Students should check the policies to ensure they have the right ID with them, but generally a driver’s license, passport or high school ID are acceptable.
- Pencils and eraser. You can bring in as many pencils as you want as the test is done on paper and you may need more than one. Mechanical pencils are not allowed.
- A calculator. One section of math allows for a calculator, but it must be a graphing, scientific or four-function calculator. Laptops, phones or tablets are not allowed. Anything that can connect to the internet, makes noise or needs to be plugged in are not allowed.
- Drink and snack. You will likely feel hungry and/or thirsty during the test and staying hydrated is important. Having something to drink and eat will keep your mind focused and able to finish the test.
- A watch. Since sections of the test are timed, it may be helpful to have a watch to monitor your timing. Ensure the watch does not have an alarm set to go off or any other sounds.
- Extra batteries. You will need your calculator for one section of math, and nothing could be worse than having it die during the section. Some extra batteries could ease your mind and help you be prepared.
- Dress in layers. Large sittings of people can tend to get warm, so dressing in layers will allow you to take things off if you begin to heat up.
Any American high school student knows the importance of taking SATs, so taking the PSAT is good practice and a great way to get some financial help for school.
There are some great tips listed above that can help you make the most of your test experience. Taking advantage of practice tests can help you to find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie and lead to more focused preparation.
Knowing where and how to sign up, what to bring and other good studying tips will help you feel more confident about the experience and hopefully lead to a great score.
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