The test changes are overwhelming—but we’re here to help! If you are a sophomore, most likely you’ve never seen the old PSAT, so the changes won’t be too much of a concern. Juniors who experienced the old test last year, however, may find the new test a little more confusing. Here are the changes, and some tips on how to study for the new PSAT.
Why the changes?
Several years ago, Dr. Richard Atkinson, then president of the University of California, expressed concern about the amount of time and money spent on test preparation for the SAT. He went so far as to consider eliminating the SAT from the UC admission process altogether. This presented a big problem: There is money in this test, and with nine campuses, the UC system is one of the largest users of the SAT.
The College Board was not cavalier about the changes requested. They reacted quickly to align the SAT with skills colleges look for: enhanced reading, math and writing aspects with an emphasis on writing.
According to Sandra Riley, associate director of public affairs at The College Board, “The SAT will focus not only on reasoning skills, but also on skills and knowledge learned in the classroom. The PSAT is changing to parallel many of the changes to the [new] SAT.”
Out with the old. . .
Here’s what you won’t see again on either the PSAT (starting this October) or SAT (starting in March 2005):
Verbal section: Analogies (apples:core as bananas:XXX; apples are to core as bananas are to…)
Math section: Quantitative comparisons (Which number is greater, A or B? If the two are the same, mark C. If you need more information, mark D.)
Some of you are celebrating right now: No more analogies! But despite the changes, “the length of the PSAT will remain the same: two hours, 10 minutes,” says Elaine Detweiler, public information director of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. (You didn’t think they’d shorten the test, did you?)
…And in with the new
“The PSAT will continue to have five sections: two 25-minute critical reading sections (formerly referred to as verbal), two 25-minute math sections and one 30-minute writing section,” Detweiler says.
The new critical reading sections will have longer reading passages and sentence completions, as in past tests. Additional shorter reading passages supercede the analogies.
“The [PSAT] critical reading sections measure extended reasoning, literal comprehension and vocabulary in context. These are things that students learn over years of reading in and out of the classroom,” says Riley. And adroit reading skills will lead to success on the test and in college.
The PSAT math sections will NOT include third-year college preparatory math problems (such as advanced algebra and trigonometry), although the new SAT will. However, 15 percent of the PSAT math section (approximately six out of 40 problems) will comprise additional concepts in numbers and operations plus more algebra and geometry problems. These problems may include graph and data interpretation.
The PSAT writing section, which is always the last section given in the test, will remain basically the same, with multiple-choice questions on spotting grammar errors and improving sentences and paragraphs. Contrary to popular rumors, the new PSAT will NOT include a written essay (although the new SAT will).
“The score ranges will remain 20 to 80 for each section, critical reading, math and writing,” says Riley. So the highest possible PSAT score would be 240, or in SAT terms, 2400.
High schools will continue to distribute the PSAT test booklets and score reports in December. “The PSAT/NMSQT Score Report Plus will provide personalized feedback on academic skills. The report will help students identify strengths and possible weak areas to help them prepare for the new SAT and college. This year, students will also receive a set of practice questions, with answers and explanations on advanced algebra topics to further help them prepare for the SAT,” adds Riley.
The PSAT score report is such a valuable tool that The College Board is developing similar feedback for the SAT. You can study for the PSAT by taking practice exams.
Get a jump start on the new SAT by taking the PSAT and spending time reviewing your personalized score report. You’ll be glad you did!