The Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/ NMSQT, is a standardized test that predicts success on the SAT and ranks students according to ability to qualify for scholarships. High school students can take the PSAT/ NMSQT in either 10th or 11th grade, but only 11th grade students are eligible for scholarships. Nevertheless, taking the test in 10th grade gives students a picture of where they are in their knowledge of the tested areas -- critical reading, math problem-solving and writing.
Know the Test
The entire test takes two hours and 10 minutes and is divided into five sections. There are 48 critical reading questions, which are tested in two 25-minute sessions and include sentence completions and comprehension. Math also includes two 25-minute sections, for a total of 38 questions, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability. Test-takers have 30 minutes for the 39 writing questions, focusing on improving sentences or paragraphs. Most questions are multiple-choice, except for 10 "grid-in" math questions that require students to write in an answer.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Many test prep companies, including the College Board, Peterson's and the Princeton Review, offer practice PSAT/ NMSQT tests. Taking several practice tests will help identify areas of weakness, giving a test-taker an idea of how to focus study sessions. The official PSAT/ NMSQT practice test must be accessed from a school official, but the College Board does have the answer key available online, as well as some practice questions. The Peterson's test is available online for free, but the Princeton Review test prep must be purchased.
Complete Practice Questions
The College Board website offers at least five practice questions for each type of question on the PSAT/ NMSQT, as well as a detailed explanation for each answer. Some question types, including the math multiple choice, have as many as 13 available practice questions online. Additionally, the College Board offers tips for doing well on each question type. For example, some of the hints for the passage-based reading comprehension questions include reading all of the introductory information, marking the passages while reading them, reading the questions first and selecting the best answer for the question.
The College Board recommends taking a wide variety of advanced academic courses to develop your abilities in English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign language and fine arts. Additionally, any club or extracurricular activity that requires problem-solving is a good way to prepare for the exam. Understand the directions for each section before test day to avoid spending valuable testing time rereading them. Practice budgeting time by answering questions under timed conditions to simulate the actual test. Expect the test to be challenging, but a good opportunity for practice before taking it again in 11th grade.
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