The PSAT: Standardized Testing Dissected

This past October 10th, Sophomores and Juniors across the United States participated in the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), a nation wide standardized test issued in school by the College Board. This test serves the purpose of assessing students skills in order to, help prepare them for the SAT, qualify them for National Merit Scholarships, and help students consider which AP courses to take. The Test is divided into 4 timed sections, all multiple choice. Students are given 60 minutes for the English comprehension section, which is comprised of articles and excerpts to read through and interpret, students are given 60 minutes.The writing section tests students on grammar and the ability to observe or create structure within a paragraph or sentence, students receive 35 minutes for this portion. There are two math portions, math without a calculator, which tests skills in basic algebra, geometry, and mathematical principles and math with a calculator focuses more on data sets, graphs, and algebra 2. Although calculator is in the name of the part, one is not required for any of the problems. No calculator and calculator math are 25 and 45 minutes respectively and both have 4 write in answer questions using a special scantron to input numbers. Factoring in breaks the test takes roughly 3 hours.

For this test my fellow students and I were required to arrive at school at 8 am. Students were given the test in homeroom, and we were required to bring two #2 pencils. Our homeroom teacher passed out test booklets and answer sheets. Before the test began we all filled out our information on our answer sheets and reviewed the rules of the test. Attached to the answer sheet is a release form to sign stating that you will adhere to all the rules of the PSAT/NMSQT. The test is made up of reading, writing, no calculator math, and calculator math, in that order. A common complaint about the reading section is that many questions will ask for the reasoning behind a previous answer. A useful trick I used on these problems was to use the multiple choice reasons to my advantage, using not only the text evidence but whichever answer and reasoning best fit together. The writing section has the second shortest time limit causing stress for many students. A tip I and other students found useful was to focus on the underlined words rather than reading the whole passage at once, as not all of the text is necessary to read unless specified in a question. The no calculator math portion is daunting however if you brush up on your basic properties of algebra and geometry it can be much easier. The calculator math portion gives more time to complete each problem, and allows use of a calculator, however many of the problems take more time to solve using the calculator. A tip many juniors gave me was to try to solve everything without a calculator and also use it to check work. In the 21st century teenagers are connected to people across the country through social media, as such PSAT memes, images of text posts that make fun of or reference the passages or mathematical problems featured in that years test are a popular topic of discussion. Although the memes are tempting, sharing the test’s contents is strictly prohibited and is a breach of the release form. Upon finding out a student breaks the agreement, College Board will cancel their test scores, the point can be made that contracts signed by minors are not legally binding, but the counter point can be made that College Board is not legally required to send you your scores. Memes aside, I do not endorse sharing content, having your scores cancelled before your test is even graded is like leaving a bad review on a product before purchasing it.

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