How to Study for the PSAT: 6 Tips

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Preparing for the PSAT? While this test won’t make or break your college admissions process, it’s an important one nonetheless. The PSAT serves not only as practice for the SAT, but is also your ticket into the National Merit competition, which could earn you scholarship money and recognition.

 

So, how do you get started? Keep reading for tips to prepare for the PSAT.

Overview of the PSAT

The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 each include three tests: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The entire exam consists of 139 total questions and must be completed in 2 hours 45 minutes.

 

The Reading assessment evaluates your command of textual evidence, your understanding of words in context, and your ability to analyze passages on various topics in history/social studies and science. The test includes several readings and accompanying questions that measure your understanding of the text in these key areas. There are 47 total questions, and you’ll have 60 minutes to answer them.

 

The Writing and Language tests clocks in at 35 minutes and has 44 questions. The questions evaluate a broad range of skills relating to your command of the English language. You’ll be tasked, for example, with analyzing the structure of particular sentences, understanding how information in charts should be interpreted, and knowing how to best fix written mistakes.

 

The Math test is composed of two sections, a No Calculator section including 17 questions to be answered in 25 minutes, and a Calculator section with 31 questions to be answered in 45 minutes. You’ll need to be able to solve these problems quickly, applying concepts and equations to complex real-world problems. In some cases, you may be allowed to use a calculator but will need to recognize whether that’s the best choice for the scenario. You’ll have a handful of grid-in questions in addition to multiple choice.

How is the PSAT Scored?

Scoring is similar to that of the SAT, although the scale for each section ranges from 160-760, as opposed to the SAT’s 200-800. Reading and Writing and Language are combined for a single score on this scale, so you’ll have two sub-scores in the end. 

 

That means your total score will be between 320-1520. Your score is meant to give you an idea of how you might perform on the SAT, but remember that many students improve their scores (and skills) in between taking the PSAT and SAT.

 

Individual test scores for each individual section (Writing and Language, Reading, Math—Calculator, and Math—No Calculator) range from 8 and 38. Along with your percentiles, which indicate how you performed in comparison to other test-takers, you’ll receive a report indicating your college-readiness benchmarks.

How Will My PSAT Score Affect My College Chances?

The PSAT will not affect your chances of admission to college. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Though colleges won’t take your PSAT scores into consideration, the PSAT is an incredible tool to help you prepare for the SAT, which will impact your odds of acceptance, unless you apply to a test-blind school (a school that doesn’t consider standardized tests even if you submit them). It can help you identify and hone your weaknesses, as well as get acclimated to the test-taking environment.

 

The PSAT/NMSQT, which you’ll take as a junior in high school, also serves as the first step in the National Merit Scholarship contest. Depending on your score, you may qualify to complete additional steps.

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Tips for Studying for the PSAT

1. Familiarize yourself with the test structure.

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself further with how the test works, the kinds of questions you’ll be asked, the time limits, and the number of questions so that there are no surprises when test day comes around. Understanding the structure of the test is the essential first step as you prepare to tackle the material in front of you.

 

2. Take practice tests.

You can find free practice tests through the College Board, along with organizations like Khan Academy. Start with a full-length practice test to get a sense of where you are and what you need to improve, simulating real testing conditions including time constraints and rules, such as when you can and cannot use your calculator on the Math test. Take these full tests periodically to evaluate your progress and target any areas of improvement.

 

3. Prioritize.

While you’re required to stick to questions within a single section during a given period — meaning you can’t go back and respond to, say, Reading questions when you’re working on Math — you don’t have to respond to the questions in order within a given section. Tackle the questions that are easier for you first, remembering to carefully mark those you’ve left blank so you can come back to them later. 

 

4. Wherever possible, eliminate.

On the PSAT, you’ll often find that there is at least one obviously incorrect answer among the options. Start by eliminating the responses that you know to be wrong first, before paring down the options to the potential correct ones. 

 

5. When in doubt, guess.

If you’re running out of time and REALLY have no idea of the correct answer, just guess. There’s no guessing penalty — meaning you won’t lose points for incorrect answers — so it’s in your best interest to fill in every bubble. Do your best to follow the strategy in #4 though — even eliminating just one incorrect response will increase your odds of success.

 

6. Study your report.

It’s tempting to check your score and call it a day, but resist. The report you receive can give you solid tips for improving your score on the actual SAT. Plus, you’ll find feedback on your strengths and weaknesses and what to focus on in your preparation and studying.

 

Looking for more information and advice on how to prepare for the PSAT? We’ve got you covered. You can learn more about the PSAT, from important dates and deadlines to time management strategies here.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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