PSAT Test Breakdown

PSAT is known to be a preparation for SAT along with an eligibility test to enter the scholarship programs conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). It is likely that most students concentrate on the SAT and picture the PSAT as a duplicate SAT that can be avoided. However, it has its importance which can be realized only by paying due attention to it.

What does PSAT Test?
PSAT is a test of a student’s preparedness for taking the standardized tests for college admissions. It is designed to offer similar experiences that a student might face in these tests. It evaluates most of the skills necessary for admission into college programs.
PSAT is a preparation specifically for the critical reading, mathematical and writing skills of students. These skills are tested in the SAT, and thus PSAT serves as  preliminary SAT for students. Your attempt in PSAT can alleviate your preparation for SAT that can result in a bright future.

How PSAT Tests Your Skills
PSAT has a predefined pattern, which focuses on testing the skills of students. In fact, the most remarkable feature of PSAT is its similarity to SAT in this respect. The types of questions asked in PSAT are similar to most of the questions asked in SAT. These questions are arranged into five different sections under three categories similar to those of SAT. These categories test the various skills of students through the questions, most of which are multiple-choice questions. With such a pattern, PSAT not only exposes the current skill level of students but also gives them an idea of what to expect in SAT.

Understanding the Facts about PSAT
PSAT is a shortened version of the actual SAT. It includes most of the features of SAT, but is lesser taxing in terms of time. However, when you decide to take the PSAT, it is best to think of it as an independent exam and prepare for it with dedication.

In order to take the PSAT, one has to understand the ins and outs of the test to the best of one’s level. PSAT is a 2 hours 10 minutes long test. There are three main testing categories, which are further divided into five sections. These three categories are as follows.

  • Critical Reading
  • Math
  • Writing

Critical Reading
There are two sections under this category. Both the sections are of 25 minutes each. There are 48 multiple-choice questions in all. Questions pertain either to sentence completion or to passage based reading.

  1. Sentence completion questions – There are 13 such questions in this section. Each question contains an incomplete sentence with either one or two blanks. Out of the given answer options, the option that makes the sentence meaningful as well as grammatically acceptable is required to be selected.

These questions specifically evaluate the students for their understanding of sentence structure. Students need to exhibit their awareness of words and their meanings. This section aptly tests their logic and reasoning through the answers provided by them.

  1. Passage based reading questions35 questions out of the total of 48 are based on critically reading passages and answering the questions. The questions are based on passages that are a part of the questions. The most suitable answers of the questions in the context of the given passage need to be selected from the given options.

These sets of questions are helpful for evaluating the reading comprehension skills of students. It requires them to understand the passages and use their logic and thinking abilities to select the best answer option.

This section also contains two sections of 25 minutes each. There are 38 questions in all in the mathematics section. The questions are of the following types.

  1. Multiple-choice questions – There are 28 questions based on this format. In such questions you are required to pick the correct answer out of the given answer options.
  2. Grid-ins – There are 10 grid ins or student produced responses. In this format, the students are supposed to compute their answer and fill in the space provided for it. There are no answer choices given here.

The areas that are tested in the mathematics section are:

    • Number and Operation
    • Algebra and Functions (excluding the content of third year math classes)
    • Geometry and Measurement
    • Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability

Students are allowed to use calculators for this section of the test. However, the questions can be solved easily with simple calculations that can be carried out mentally.
The math section tests the problem solving skills and computational skills of students. It also tests their alertness as careless mistakes may result in choosing the wrong answer options. Moreover, this section also tests the mental abilities since the questions like the grid ins do not present any answer option and encourage students to work out the answers.

There is just one section devoted to testing the writing skills of students. It is 30 minutes long and has 39 multiple choice questions in all. The questions in the writing section are asked on the following lines.

  1. Identifying sentence errors - There are 14 such questions. Each question contains a sentence followed by five answer options. You are required to identify errors in the given sentence and replace them with the most suitable answer option. The first four options provide you with an alternate answer, while the fifth option gives you the choice of not changing the sentence. In case you do not find any error in the sentence, you can select the fifth option as your answer choice.

These questions specifically test the ability of students to make decisions regarding grammar, word choice and their usage in sentences.

  1. Improving sentences20 questions are based on improving sentences. This means that the questions require to be mended in certain places to make them grammatically correct as well as meaningful. The question sentence is underlined in some places and the answer options pertain to these underlined portions. If the sentence seems to be correct in the original form, you can select option A that provides no change for the underlined parts. The other answer options provide alternate answers for the underlined portion which may improve the sentence structure, meaning or grammar.

With such questions, it is possible to test how well students are able to structure the sentence. It judges their skills in written English.

  1. Improving paragraphs5 of the writing questions are those of improving paragraphs. Students are provided with a draft which should be read quickly to answer the questions that follow. The answer must be selected by keeping the complete draft in mind.

The questions about improving the paragraphs are based on improving the logic, arrangement or unity that exists in the paragraphs. It is a test of a student’s understanding of the organization of written piece of text.
Students need to be precise in these questions since the answer options might be very confusing. There could be options which seem to be the probable answer, but are included only to evaluate your abilities to read between the lines. The idea behind this section is to check the expressions of students in written English, their ability to find errors and provide alternate answers to the given questions.

PSAT Scoring
All the three sections of PSAT are scored on a scale of 20 to 80, where 20 is the minimum and 80 is the maximum score possible in each section. However, this is a scaled score and is not the total of correctly answered questions. Instead, the scaled score depends upon the raw score, which is a direct representation of how you have attempted in the PSAT.
Each question, whether easy or difficult, is weighted equally in terms of marks. Hence, it is wise to attempt the easier questions first instead of lingering upon difficult ones and losing on the testing time provided to you. The raw score in the sections is a total of correctly answered questions excluding the marks deducted for incorrect answers. However, no marks are deducted for questions left untouched and for incorrect responses for grid in questions.
The total score is a combination of the scaled scores in all the three sections, which ranges between 60 and 240. This combined score is also called the Selection Index.
PSAT score is an excellent index of your capabilities. It is a reflection of your weaknesses and strengths and helps in identifying the scope of improvement. Moreover, a good score in PSAT makes you eligible for the scholarships offered by NMSC.

PSAT provides an excellent opportunity to judge your own level at the onset of college admission process. This opportunity is served best only if you take it seriously by keeping in mind the larger aspect on which it can have a lasting impact.

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