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Chris Lele

The PSAT: Your Complete Guide

What is the PSAT?

To talk about the PSAT, it makes sense to first talk about the SAT. This is a test many have heard of, usually with a little touch of fear. To prepare students of the rigors of the SAT, and to provide a possible scholarship, the College Board designed a slightly easier and shorter version of the SAT. This is called the PSAT, or the preliminary SAT.


What is on the PSAT?

The PSAT has the exact same sections as the actual SAT, just with fewer questions. There is a math component and a verbal component. The latter consists of both grammar exercises and reading passages. This is a change from the previous version of the PSAT, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

It’s also important to note that the PSAT is not made up of facts that you simply have to cram into your brain and then retrieve test day. It’s about applying rules and concepts to questions that are designed not to be straightforward. Essentially, you’ll have to use a lot of critical thinking. For instance, a math word problem won’t be a case of plugging the numbers into a predetermined formula. The information is always different and you’ll have to devise an equation to fit the specific circumstances. Unlike the bread-and-butter three-line word problems you might be used to seeing in math class, some of the math word problems can run close to 15 lines.


How has it changed?

If you took the PSAT before March 2016, you took a very different test than the current SAT. That test was vocabulary heavy, including the likes of lugubrious, punctilious, and meretricious. Basically words nobody outside of a literary circle would know, let alone have the audacity to utter. The math questions were often more like logic puzzles, carefully engineered so that they would have devious trap answers. The reading passages had lots of big words, abstract ideas, and answer choices so devious they made the math questions blush.

In other words, the test has become a lot friendlier and less likely to induce a full-blown panic attack. Did I mention that the old test actually had a guessing penalty? The reading questions are relatively straightforward, though the passages are longer and in some cases denser. Math questions better reflect the fundamentals you likely learned in class. Whereas the trap answers on the old test were as ferocious as mountain lions, on the new PSAT they are, at worst, fussy housecats.


How to prepare?

Your prep will consist of a mixture of fundamentals and practice questions. For instance, you’ll want to revisit algebra concepts you learned a year back, or are maybe learning right now, before you tackle actual test questions. You don’t want to spend too much time on fundamentals, however. Throw yourself into practice questions to get a feel for the way the test works. Often a good idea is when you miss a question to review the fundamentals at work, assuming you didn’t make a careless error. That’s better than trying to memorize a bunch of fundamentals but then waiting an indefinite period before actually reviewing them.

Make sure to do your research on practice materials. The best bet is to use SAT practice materials since the questions that pop up on each test are indistinguishable. It is the ordering of the difficulty of the questions that differs between the two tests. Here is a great SAT one-month study plan that you can use, tailoring it to your schedule. [draft ready to link coming study schedule].

We have tons of resources on our blog to help you prepare for both the Redesigned SAT and the PSAT. Here are a few that will help you PSAT studiers:


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

2 Responses to “The PSAT: Your Complete Guide”

  1. Erin says:

    Question: Are your SAT resources too difficult for 15-year-old ninth grader to use for PSAT prep?

    So far I am underwhelmed by PSAT materials.

    I also like Magoosh’s method.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert Magoosh Test Prep Expert says:

      I’d say our SAT materials could work for PSAT. What’s important to remember, of course, is the way that SAT scores compare to PSAT ones. Magoosh SAT subscribers who are preparing for the PSAT should gauge their PSAT readiness by looking at what their SAT practice scores mean in relation to PSAT score ranges. For more information, see the PSAT section of Magoosh’s write up on SAT score ranges and other tests.

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