Did you know that the College Board is now splitting the PSAT into two categories, extending all the way to middle school students? Well, it is, and preparing becomes even more important, so listen up. There will now be one PSAT for eighth and ninth graders, and another for 10th and 11th graders. Imagine students taking up to four PSATs—that's what's coming.
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As always, the NMSQT (National Merit Qualifying Scholarship Test) will be available only in the 11th grade. The new 2015 "SAT Suite of Assessments," as the College Board now calls them, sound more like a bunch of fancy rooms at the Plaza Hotel than a bunch of standardized tests, right? Well, although they may seem to have been created merely to keep #2 pencil manufacturers in business, they are here to stay for now, so get informed.
The groups of tests now include two PSAT tests with different scoring, one for eighth and ninth graders and another for 10th and 11th graders—and then of course, the SAT (your final destination). The new PSAT tests come in anticipation of the new SAT, where the stakes are even higher for millions of college-bound teens, making for potentially confusing times. But I've got the 411 and some tips to help you prepare for success.
The purpose of the PSAT
First, let's clarify the purpose of this test. Think of it as training wheels before you get on the "big bike" of the actual SAT, or as those inflatable bumper pads they use in bowling alleys so younger players can work up to avoiding gutter balls all on their own.
Building up your aptitude for (and tolerance of) long testing periods and multiple choice options is indeed a necessary evil in today's world of high stakes testing. As I often say to the families I work with at my offices here in Los Angeles, I don't endorse the world of high stakes testing, but while we're here, it's my job to help teens navigate it with maximum point gains and minimal trauma.
According to the College Board, the PSAT is there to measure and follow student performance, pinpoint areas for development, and prepare students for the redesigned SAT. No doubt, it does help determine your college readiness and provides you with resources to target your weaker areas.
It's also a handy tool for teachers and counselors to monitor whether you are ready for AP- or IB-level courses. If you start taking the PSAT early, from eighth to 10th grade, many educators hope that by the time you reach the PSAT National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) in 11th grade, you will have hammered out many of your weaknesses and prepared yourself for a polished performance.
Anatomy of the new PSAT tests
These tests are vertically scaled, meaning the level of difficulty will increase with each exam. Paralleling this is the scoring system (seen in the table below), which increases by 40 points for each successive test. The new scoring system will no longer deduct points for wrong answers, so you may now put forth your best answer on every question without wondering if you should have bothered with it at all.
Different from the previous PSAT, which contained three sections (Critical Reading, Writing, and Mathematics), the new PSAT has only two sections. The first of these sections, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, includes a Reading Test and a Writing and Language Test. The second of these sections is Math, which is broken down into calculator and non-calculator portions. The SAT will do the same starting in spring 2016.
Understanding the basis for these questions is important, but to truly see what you're up against, I recommend that you take on the practice questions available on the College Board site. See how you do. Even if you only have time to explore a couple of questions from each section, this practice will help you get a feel for the challenge. Take a look at the breakdown below:
As you can see, this new version is a full 30 minutes longer than the original PSAT, which was two hours and 10 minutes.
Why you should take it seriously
Ultimately, this new PSAT aims to assess the skills you'll need for college and career readiness. By studying for and taking the PSAT, you will be connected to colleges, scholarships, and AP classes. Additionally, by targeting areas needing improvement with each successive PSAT, you will improve your chances of qualifying as a National Merit Scholar on the PSAT/NMSQT (in 10th or 11th grade) and doing well on the SAT.
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In the end, your goal is not a number on a test. It is a future filled with purpose and enough monetary compensation for your efforts to ensure a bright and stable life. To that end, I invite you to visit my blog to view the link to my recent one-hour webinar, "Bridging the Gap Between College and Career." Learn the major and minor combinations that convert into the most lucrative and happy careers in today's competitive marketplace. See you there!