Update on the New PSAT

On March 24th the College Board (CB) released a sample of its new PSAT ,along with a detailed answer key, on its website. The new, redesigned PSAT will premiere October 14th and is the first taste of the revamped SAT scheduled to be administered on 5 March 2016. 

The PSAT, which will continue to be used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT) by junior test takers, is a departure from the PSAT of 2014. The previous PSAT had separate writing, reading, and math sections with a scaled score of 20-80 on each, maxing out at 240. The new PSAT has two components, verbal and math, with a rather strange scale of 160-760 on each, maxing out at 1520.  

The PSAT’s new scoring scheme uses numbers to indicate mastery of skills correlated to the national Core Curriculum. The ACT test has been doing this since its inception in November 1959, scaling from 1-36, while its version of the PSAT, PLAN, scaling from 1-32. The scaled scores allow students to track their academic performance. PLAN, by the way, has been molded into ACT’s Aspire, which will test students on the Common Core across math, science, and the social sciences from  the 3rd to 11th grade.

In fact the CB is already designing PSAT 10, with a scale 160-760, PSAT 9, scale 120-720, and PSAT 8, also scaled 120-720. The CB’s intent is to have assessments for the Common Core for each grade, much like ACT’s Aspire. The assumption is that this product will be renamed something other than the PSAT and will compete with ACT’s Aspire and the other existing Common Core assessment products from PARCC and Smarter Balanced (which is currently used by the State of California for Common Core assessment).       

Not only is the new PSAT (and the new SAT) scored like the ACT, but portions of the test look a lot like the ACT, especially the Verbal section, which is composed of the Writing and Language Test (44 questions in 35 minutes) and Reading Test (47 questions in 1 hour). If you’ve already downloaded the PSAT from the College Board website using the link above, you’ll immediately see the similarities, assuming you’re acquainted with the ACT. 

In the reading component, each passage is followed by a series of 8-10 questions, no sentence completion questions, with passages spanning social science, natural science, prose fiction, and humanities. Moreover, unlike the old PSAT, only 17 of the 47 questions have line references, which means test takers will need to use key words in the answers or question to locate where to look in the passage for the right answer.

The Writing and Language Test contains questions about underlined portions in a series of passages, with 4 answers to select among. Again, the format look and feel is distinctly that of the ACT.

The Math component is composed of math with and without a calculator. The math covers basic math, logic, algebra, geometry and algebra 2, but is reducing the number of geometry problems from 40% of the questions to only 10%, with one or two trigonometry problems.  

Science topics, charts, and experiments will be sprinkled throughout the verbal and math sections. Additionally there is no guessing penalty in the PSAT, as has always been the case with the ACT.

One of the biggest differences between the new and old PSAT is length: the new is 25% longer, 2 hours and 45 minutes, which is only 15 minutes shy of the predicted length of the New SAT (without the essay section). This allots 71 seconds per question instead of the 61 seconds on previous tests. While this might slow the pace down, chances are, within the core curriculum style of learning, students will need the full allotted 71 seconds to find all the material necessary to answer the question.

If you like the ACT, you should like the new PSAT—they have a lot in common.