PSAT Exams

Basics of PSAT Exam

Every year in the month of October, in the life of 9th, 10th and 11th graders, there is a kind of nervous energy, and this is because of the PSAT exams. Although a practice or preliminary SAT exam, this exam holds importance for two major reasons, firstly, because it opens up a chance for 11th graders to win the National Merit Scholarships under the NMSC program, and secondly because it lends valuable practice and relevant insight into performance on the SAT for 9th and 10th graders. PSAT exams are held twice a year and both dates fall in the month of the October.

PSAT exams are not conducted at test centers, unlike the SAT exam. PSAT is conducted at participating high-schools and these high-schools can only pick any one of the dates in October to conduct the PSAT exams. The PSAT measures an applicant’s writing skills, critical reasoning skills and math problem-solving skills. It is a test of an applicant’s capability to apply skills learnt at school level. The College Board along with the NMSC (National Merit Scholarship Commission) are sponsors for the PSAT. Additional information can be sought at the official website for the PSAT exams. Following is a brief overview of the exam and its format, test sections and question types.

Exam Format

The PSAT exam is a paper-pencil, 2 hours and ten minutes long exam with an additional 35 minutes of administrative formalities and form-filling. Applicants are expected to bring in their calculators and No. 2 pencils for the test. There are three components in the PSAT exams, namely, writing skills, critical reading and mathematics. It is not a completely multiple-choice based exam, and has student-based response for questions in the math component. There is no essay in the writing skills component, unlike the SAT.

The scores are received by the high-schools in December first week and they disburse these to the applicants after that. The final score is out of 240 and each component is scored out of 80 points. The final score report consists of something called as the Selection Index, which is a combination of the scores of all the three components, and this is sent to the NMSC for those applicants taking the PSAT exams for an NMSC scholarship.

Test Sections

The three components of the PSAT are further divided into 5 sections, i.e. two sections per component except for the writing skills component, which has only one section. All these are allotted a certain time limit and applicants are expected to finish these within their respective time limits. The two critical reading sections and two math sections are allotted 25 minutes each (that is 100 minutes in total for all the 4 sections) and the writing component needs to be finished in 30 minutes. There is a negative mark of minus 1/4th of a mark for incorrect multiple choice based answers, but not for the student response based ones.

Question Types

There are a total of two kinds of questions asked in the PSAT exams. One is a multiple-choice based question and the other is a student-response based question. There is no essay question in the PSAT. Each component has a certain number of questions, namely, the Critical Reading component has 48 questions, out of which, 13 are sentence completions and 35 are critical reading questions. In the Math components there are 38 questions, out of which 28 are multiple-choice based questions and the rest 10 are student-produced responses. Lastly, in the Writing Skills component there are 39 questions out of which, 14 are identifying sentence errors, 20 are improving sentences questions and 5 are improving paragraph questions.

The PSAT exams do not measure what an applicant has learnt in school; instead it is more a measure of how well he has learnt skills like reasoning, problem-solving and critical-thinking. Applicants need not get stressed about learning course content for the PSAT. They just need to get in touch with their high-school or their guidance counsellors to help them prepare for the PSAT exams.

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