New PSAT 2015 FAQ

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What is the PSAT?

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT), also known as the National Merit Qualifying Scholarship Test (NMSQT), is a test that helps you practice for the SAT. The test also enables you to enter the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship program.

Why is the PSAT changing in 2015?

According to The College Board, the PSAT was revised to match the changes made to the SAT and to “support all students with a clear focus on the skills and knowledge that matter most for college and career success.”

How is the PSAT changing in 2015?

Changes to the new 2015 PSAT include changes to the format of the exam, scoring scale, and question types. Most of the changes are reflective of the changes made to the new 2016 SAT.

The largest single change to the new PSAT is the introduction of multiple different PSAT types intended for students in different grades in high school. Previously, there was only one PSAT/NMSQT test. Now, there are three different types of PSAT:

  • PSAT/NMSQT: this version of the PSAT is most similar to the old PSAT/NMSQT; it should be taken during the Fall of a student’s 10th or 11th grade school year, and the score from the PSAT/NMSQT is used as the entry score for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
  • PSAT 10: this version of the PSAT has the same content as the PSAT/NMSQT, but the score from the PSAT 10 cannot be used as the entry score for the National Merit Scholarship Program. It should be taken during the Spring of a student’s 10th grade school year.
  • PSAT 8/9: this is a new version of the PSAT which is intended to be used as a baseline of students’ progress as they enter high school on the topics that matter most to college and career success; it should be taken during the Fall or Spring of a student’s 8th or 9th grade school year, and correspondingly, the content in the PSAT 8/9 is not as advanced as the content in the PSAT 10 or PSAT/NMSQT.

The format of the new tests are identical across all of the new PSAT types, and are as follows:

  • The time allotted for the new PSAT is 2 hours and 45 minutes.
  • There are two components to the new PSAT, the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section and the Math Section.

The scoring scales used on the new PSAT actually differ depending on the type of PSAT:

  • The PSAT 8/9 grades both the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section and the Math Section on a scale of 120-720, which adds up to a total possible score of 1440.
  • The PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT grade both the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section and the Math section on a scale of 160-760, which adds up to a total possible score of 1520.

What types of questions appear on the new PSAT?

Four types of questions are featured on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section: words in context, command of evidence, informational graphics, and text complexity.

Words in Context questions measure your understanding of how word choice influences meaning, shapes mood and tone, reflects point of view, or lends precision or interest. The Writing and Language portion measures students’ ability to apply knowledge of words, phrases, and language in general in the context of extended prose passages.

Command of Evidence questions test students’ ability to identify the portion of text that serves as the best evidence for the conclusions they reach. You both interpret text and support that interpretation by citing the most relevant textual support. The Writing and Language portion measures students’ capacity to revise a text to improve its development of information and ideas.

Informational Graphics questions ask students to interpret information conveyed in one or more graphics (tables, graphs, charts, etc.) and to integrate that information with information found in the text. The Reading test has two passages that include one or two graphics each. The Writing and Language portion has one or more passages that include one or more graphics, and asks students to consider information in graphics as they make decisions about how and whether to revise a passage.

Text Complexity questions include passages that span a specified range of text complexity levels from grades 9-10 to postsecondary entry. Students are asked to make and refine decisions about the placement of passages within complexity bands.

More generally, the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section requires students to answer questions based on their ability to read and refine the text as a whole.

The most important thing about the new Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is that students need to read entire passages to answer the questions.

The new PSAT has a no-calculator math section, which is worth about a third of your math score. The sections of the math test that do allow a calculator also feature questions that do not require a calculator to solve, where use of a calculator could serve to actually slow down the problem solving process. These question types assess how well students make use of appropriate tools.

Four types of questions appear in the Math section: algebra, problem solving and data analysis, advanced math, and additional topics. Each of these broader question types may be broken down into more specific math topics.

Algebra questions require students to solve equations and systems of equations, to create expressions, equations, and inequalities to solve problems, and to rearrange and interpret formulas.

Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions require students to create and analyze relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units, to describe relationships shown graphically, and to summarize qualitative and quantitative data.

Advanced Math questions require students to rewrite expressions, to create, analyze, and solve quadratic and higher-order equations, and to manipulate polynomials to solve problems.

Additional Topics questions require students to calculate area and volume, to investigate lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theorems, and to work with trigonometric functions.

More generally, the math section of the new PSAT thoroughly tests your foundational knowledge of math topics in the context of real world situations, involving science, social science, or career related topics, focusing specifically on the math needed to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

Will the new 2015 PSAT be harder?

This is a question with no easy answer. It depends on your strengths and weaknesses. The math section of the test is more advanced and counts more heavily toward your overall composite score, and calculators are only available for certain math sections. This will benefit students who are talented in math or who have taken more advanced math classes. Likewise, the evidence based reading and writing section of the test favors students with strong reading comprehension skills and an in-depth knowledge of English grammar. From College Board’s perspective, the new PSAT is more closely aligned with the demands of college and readiness for a career. Students who have done well in all school subjects should benefit from the test changes.

How do I sign up for the new PSAT?

To register for the new PSAT, you have to contact your school counselor for the test. Make sure you know the date, time, and location of the test ahead of time. Online registration for the PSAT is not available.