The PSAT is meant to be taken as a preparatory tool in anticipation of the SAT. Taken by thousands of students each year, the PSAT provides a glimpse into what to expect on the actual exam and the changes that are being made. Method Test Prep's Director of Education, Andrew Peterson, shares all of the specifics you need to know about the current PSAT and the new PSAT.

Last but Not Least

As we all know by now, the SAT is changing. So it probably does not come as a surprise that the College Board will be modifying the PSAT as well to mirror the changes that will be seen on the new SAT. In our previous post you got a glimpse of the changes to the PSAT Writing/Language section, so what is left?

PSAT Math

Format

  • 70 minutes
  • 47 questions
  • 37 multiple-choice questions
  • 9 grid-in (student-produced response)
  • 1 extended thinking (multi-point, grid-in question)Girl-Thumb

Calculator Section

  • 45 minutes
  • 30 questions 
  • 27 multiple-choice questions
  • 2 grid-in (student-produced response)
  • 1 extended thinking (multi-point, grid-in question)

No-Calculator Section

  • 25 minutes
  • 17 questions
  • 13 multiple-choice questions
  • 4 grid-in (student-produced response)

What This Means for Students

Students will be asked to solve math problems that pertain to real-world problems and situations. This most likely means that students will encounter several world problems on the test, and students should be prepared to tackle these problems.

The addition of the "extended thinking" problem is groundbreaking for a standardized test because the current PSAT, SAT, and ACT exclusively have single point questions (ignoring the essay component on the SAT and ACT). From the few sample "extended thinking" questions that the College Board has posted, it would seem as if this questions would represent a unique challenge to most every student despite varying degrees of mathematical ability.

The inclusion of a No-Calculator section will most certainly represent a significant challenge for many students as well. The College Board claims that the math on this section will relate exclusively to concepts in which a calculator will not be helpful, but basic and intermediate arithmetic will be necessary to complete these problems. Therefore, if math is not your forte, make sure that you hone your basic algebra and your arithmetic skills before the test.

There will also be relatively fewer geometry questions across the test, which is a departure from the current PSAT as the current test has an even larger portion of geometry questions than the SAT does. This means that while students should still make sure to have mastered their geometry skills, their time will most likely be better spend honing their skills in algebra and arithmetic.

General Differences

Lastly, there are some big changes that are occurring across the entire exam.

First and foremost, the College Board is doing away with the notorious "guessing penalty." In short, when a question was answered incorrectly, this penalty took away points that a student already earned on the test. The College Board will be phasing out this scoring nightmare although with the new SAT and PSAT. This means that students should answer every question on the test. No excuses. Put simply, every question left unanswered is a missed opportunity to score points.

The College Board has also decided to reduce the number of possible answer choices from five to four. This effectively increases the probability of guessing correctly on any given question, and, as such, students should be even more inclined to guess on this test if they are unsure of the correct answer.

It is also important to note that the Reading and Writing/Language sections will be combined to technically make this a two section test where each section is scored between 200 and 800 points with a full test composite between 400 and 1600 points. And yes, the new PSAT and the SAT will both be scored on this scale. This should make it easier for everyone to see the relationship between PSAT and SAT scores in the future.

Finally, the new PSAT and SAT will be accompanied by a multitude of subscores. The jury is still out on how useful these subscores will be to students, teachers, and colleges, but it most certainly will cause the average parent to squint in utter confusion for a few moments longer at each score report that comes back.

Taking the ACT