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Rita Neumann

The New PSAT: How to Prepare

The new suite of PSAT exams, which prepare students for the Redesigned SAT, will make their debut this fall.

The New PSAT

On March 5, 2014, the College Board made some big announcements at SXSWedu. They announced the huge changes coming to the SAT in 2016, a partnership with Sal Khan to deliver free SAT prep to students (something Magoosh is an enthusiastic supporter of), and a Pulitzer Prize-like writing competition for students.

We’ve written extensively about how the new SAT will be different, might be harder, and how the math section will change. But we haven’t yet tackled a major question:

How will the revamped SAT will affect the PSAT?

When Will the PSAT Change?

The College Board’s new PSAT and SAT exams are known as the SAT Suite of Assessments, and are designed to work together to prepare students for college and work.

The College Board hopes that the consistent thread of underlying content tested in each exam will provide accurate benchmarks for monitoring student progress from eighth grade through high school.

The suite consists of four exams:

  • The PSAT 8/9: Taken in the fall or spring of eighth and ninth grade.
  • The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10: The two exams cover the same content. Students can take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of 10th and 11th grade or the PSAT 10 in the spring of 10th and 11th grade.
  • The Revamped SAT: Students can take the SAT throughout the school year during junior and senior year of high school.

While the revamped SAT won’t launch until March 2016, the new PSAT exams are launching in two stages. The PSAT 8/9 (for eighth- and ninth-graders) will launch in October 2015 (six months from now!) and the PSAT 10 (for tenth-graders) will launch in February 2016.

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How Will the PSAT Change?

Aside from the fact that there are now going to be three PSAT exams, to be taken during specific years of middle and high school, the PSAT will also be undergoing some major content changes.

These new versions of the PSAT are designed to test the same content as the new SAT, but at lower levels. The exams are meant to be aligned so that each test reflects a student’s progression from grade to grade.

Also, all of the exams in the suite will use the same scoring scale, allowing students to directly compare progress from year to year. The new PSAT will be graded out of a combined score of 1520, and SAT will be graded out of a combined score of 1600, with a separate essay score.

The exams will reflect concepts learned in the classroom and test college and career readiness. According to the College Board, there will be eight key content changes:

  • 1. Relevant words in context: Rather than testing obscure vocabulary words, the new exams will test students’ ability to determine the meaning of words and phrases in context.
  • 2. Command of evidence: Part of the Reading and Writing tests, students will have to demonstrate an ability to use evidence found in different sources.
  • 3. Essay analyzing a source: The new SAT essay will require students to read a passage and explain how the author builds his or her argument.
  • 4. Math that matters most: The new Math section will focus on problem solving and data analysis, “heart of algebra”, and “passport to advanced math.”
  • 5. Problems grounded in real-world contexts: Throughout the tests, questions will deal with literature, nonfiction, charts, graphs, and passages likely to be relevant to many careers.
  • 6. Analysis in science and in history/social studies: Students will have to apply reading, writing, language, and math knowledge to answer questions in science, history, and social studies contexts.
  • 7. The great global conversation and U.S. founding documents: Each exam will contain a passage from an important American/global text, such as the Declaration of Independence of work by Edmund Burke or Nelson Mandela.
  • 8. No penalty for wrong answers: Finally!! Students will no longer lose any points for wrong answers. The guessing penalty is gone, once and for all.

So, how do you prepare for an exam that is completely new and different from its predecessor?

New Official PSAT Practice Materials

When it comes to really exciting test prep news, new official practice materials rank pretty high on my list. Not quite as high as, say, the College Board announcing that the new SAT won’t have a guessing penalty — but exciting nonetheless. 🙂

As an SAT tutor, I can vouch for the fact that official practice materials are worth their weight in gold. Official materials allow students to see how the test makers write questions, and provide insight into the topics and concepts that test makers deem important. Prepping with official materials is the best way for test takers to understand what the real test will be like.

So! When the College Board announced that it posted sample PSAT questions and an entire practice PSAT/NMSQT test online, I was really, really happy.

Sure, this current suite of questions is far from complete. But, it’ll give you a good idea of where the tests are headed. Plus, in June 2015, you’ll be able to access Khan Academy’s SAT prep resources for free. So these are really just a teaser from the College Board.

Here’s where you can find these official materials:

Magoosh will also be revamping our SAT prep materials to reflect the new exam. Stay tuned for our updated tips and strategies, as we get closer to the launch of the new SAT, in March 2016.

Questions, comments, or concerns? Leave a comment to let me know. 🙂


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Rita Neumann

Rita creates fun, inspiring, and educational resources that introduce students to Magoosh and help them prep for their exams. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.

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