Monthly Archives: March 2015

3 Things Students Can Do to Prepare for the New 2015 PSAT

What should students do to prepare for the new PSAT?

1. Read widely and deeply. Students should read texts from a variety of content areas, from world literature to natural science, to become familiar with the types of materials they will encounter. The PSAT reading will not be difficult for most students to finish, so they should focus on learning to read well rather than read quickly.

2. Learn grammar fundamentals. Many students have not had thorough training in grammar. The new PSAT will expect students to thoroughly understand proper punctuation, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, and a host of other topics. Since grammar is often not taught in depth at many schools, students may want to review independently.

3. Brush up on algebra and statistics. There is very little geometry and trigonometry on the new PSAT. If someone is trying to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, they will want to study geometry so they can be prepared for the handful of questions that will arise. If someone has more moderate goals, they can emphasize algebraic and statistical fundamentals.

Major Changes to the PSAT in 2015

I am currently writing the new Barron’s PSAT Guide, so I have become very well-versed in what the new PSAT will look like.   Here is my concise summary of the major changes coming to the PSAT this fall:

Current PSAT Vocab:  Students need to spend countless hours memorizing obscure vocabulary words that they will probably not use again.

New PSAT Vocab:  Students focus on deciphering the meaning of words based on context clues.  The potential words are ones that are more widely used in professional settings.

Current PSAT Math:  An emphasis on pure mathematical reasoning, with many problems more akin to IQ test questions than ones that students are very likely to encounter in the real world.

New PSAT Math:  A major shift towards practical word problems, data analysis, statistics, and algebra.  The mathematical concepts are ones used in a variety of careers, both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and non-STEM ones.

Current PSAT Guessing:  There is a quarter point guessing penalty for missed questions.  (If students answer a question correctly, they earn a full point; if they omit it, they receive zero points; if they answer incorrectly, they lose a quarter point).  In my tutoring experience, the guessing penalty drives students nuts as they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to determine whether they should answer a question or leave it blank.

New PSAT Guessing:  There is no guessing penalty–simply answer every question.  Students can devote their mental energy to the problems presented instead of wasting it on trying to decide whether to answer.

Current PSAT Theme:  The current SAT is more a test of pure problem solving skills, with not much of a focus on practical applications.

New PSAT Theme:  No one will be able to justifiably say that there is nothing useful or practical being evaluated on the new SAT.  It has writing passages from career fields, lots of real world mathematical word problems, and reading passages from the great historical & political documents of the U.S. and world.