High school is truly a whole new ballgame. Not only am I in awe of what my son is doing, at times I’ve questioned my own intelligence. We were offered three AP classes when I was in high school; now students are weighting their back-up classes with more AP classes.
The PSAT is designed as a precursor to the SAT, allowing students, parents and educators the opportunity to find out where their child is on the road to college preparedness. These scores tell students how prepared they are and allow them to concentrate on their weakest areas in order to improve their scores for the SAT.
The material students encounter on the PSAT is the same material on the SAT and the majority of the practice for the PSAT will be found labeled as SAT. It’s like killing two birds with one stone, as it creates an additional layer of memory that will come in handy during either test.
“Planning Your SAT Practice with Khan Academy” is the most detailed guide I have found in many many hours of research and it is what we’re basing a great deal of our own preparation around. It’s a great tool for all parents and printable, so it’s always at your fingertips.
Reading For the PSAT
Reading is essential for the PSAT. Not just for the Writing and Language tests, but for Math as well – especially the word problems found on the test. When a student reads, they increase their vocabulary and are exposed to different sentence structures. This helps build attention, as well as endurance, both necessary for test taking. Instead of training for six-pack abs, students are brain training so they can add new wrinkles to their gray matter.
How do you prepare students for the lengthy passages that they will read leading up to the PSAT? Start out slowly and use a timer. Encourage your student to increase that time daily until they are reading for an hour. Turn mobile phones and tablets off to minimize distractions. If a reading section is one hour long and your student can read a book for that length of time without checking their phone or taking a walk, they’ll be able to handle the reading portion of the PSAT more effectively.
The best advice I was ever given in college was to read with a dictionary in my lap. That is the best advice I can give your student. The weight of the dictionary is a reassuring one. Even now, when I am reading, I keep a dictionary handy. It’s worn and frayed, but I know it is there when I run across a word where I question the meaning in the sentence, or that I don’t know.
The PSAT no longer has sentence completions, instead students will be tested on commonly used vocabulary that are within the context of the passages they will be reading. Which is why I believe the dictionary in the lap is essential to all students. The College Board has also added passages that contain charts, graphs and pictures that your student will need to interpret. Finally evidence-based reading is also included. Students will need to know how to demonstrate style, point of view, tone or themes in their readings.
What should students read to prepare for the PSAT? The College Board has a recommended list that I’m sharing here from the NYCiSchool’s Library Blog.
It’s important that students read a variety of books. I prefer printed books as e-books make it too easy to switch apps, plus printed books are closer to the format students will see on the PSAT. Variety is key when reading, as well as switching between fiction and non-fiction. Short fiction and long form non-fiction is a good way of building reading endurance and exposure to a variety of sentence structures. Magazines such as The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, McSweeney’s Quarterly, and The Atlantic are great sources, as well as the website BrainPickings.
Grammar is also an important part of the test. Prep Scholar has a great grammar resource to help students brush on up on their grammar and punctuation usage.
Math and the PSAT/SAT can be intimidating for the most well-prepared student. The key to math practice is remembering the fundamentals and practicing the ones that cause difficulty. Over and over. The practice is essential for being to quickly and accurately work math problems, as spending too much time worrying about factoring a quadratic equation can spell disaster for other, much easier problems, found on the test.
The PSAT math questions related to real-life situations in business, sciences, or the social sciences. There are grid-in word problems with multiple parts and more focus on algebra and data analysis, with less emphasis on geometry.
Here’s a sample question:
Free Online Resources
The College Board, makers of the PSAT, offers free PSAT practice (set up under SAT practice) on the CB site. These are the only official practice tests for the PSAT/SAT. There are sample questions students can use to test their knowledge, paper and pencil practice questions, and links to their partner site, Khan Academy.
Khan Academy is top of the list. It’s a great stand-alone online and personal learning resource for all ages. Khan is also a partner site with the College Board — the organization that offers the PSAT. Students can connect their accounts to personalize their PSAT and SAT practice, with continuing practice for concepts they have mastered and more in-depth practice for subjects that need improvement.
The testing tools on the site that students actually use are official SAT practice tests. The format and content of the PSAT is almost the same at the SAT, so it’s a great to practice for the PSAT and allows students to continue building their skills based on that practice when preparing for the SAT.
I’m am recommending free apps that I have been testing and that are available on the App Store and Google Play. (I have noted the ones that contain in-app purchases.) Each of these apps help students sharpen their skills with customized daily training, stimulated tests, and track their time per question. Detailed explanations are given after students have answered questions, helping them understand why their answer was right, or their
Daily SAT Practice by the College Board Foundation is an easy to navigate app. Students sign in with their College Board account (they’re prompted to create one if they don’t have). There is a daily question, a question archive, and the ability to scan practice tests with the app for scoring. The app links to Khan Academy (a College Board partner) for online practice.
Following is the sample question of the day that I intentionally selected the incorrect answer to show the explanation portion and why my answer is incorrect.
PSAT Prep: Practice Tests and Flashcards is offered by Varsity Tutors. It’s part of their suite of offerings, which includes paid tutoring services. This app is different as it allows students to make their own flashcards within the app for practice.
Practice tests are offered by concept and marked by degree of difficulty. Drills in Reading, Writing, Language and Math sections allow users to hone their knowledge on specific subject areas. In-depth specific concepts like recognizing patterns in literature and factoring quadratic equations are just two of the ones I picked out to test myself on. The “How to Factor Quadratic Equations” practice test made me question how I graduated high school.
Play2prep provides personalized training for students for the ACT, SAT, Math and English tests. It has been recognized by Time Magazine, Edutopia and Ed Tech. Like the others, it offers a variety of ways to practice, however play2prep takes it a step further by having the SAT and ACT in a single app and helps determine the best test for the student. (Never rely on an app to do this. It is best to talk to your student’s guidance counselor.) Play2prep also connects to the p2p community, creating multi-player set-ups between online users, friends, and most-played opponents.
It sounds old fashioned and not very tech-savvy, but the library is a great resource for students preparing for the PSAT. If a student has a library card, they can use it to access the internet, books to improve reading skills and the free online tools in this article. Many libraries also offer PSAT study guides to be checked out. The downfall is many of the practice books may be out of date and not cover the same material contained in the redesigned test.
How long should student’s give themselves to prepare?
If they have six months…
Six months is plenty of time to practice and prepare for the test. It allows students to start slowly and increase their practice times without risk of fatigue.
If they have three months…
Three months means students have time to prepare for content and format and then drill down into the areas in which they want to improve their score.
If they have a month…
Students will want to prioritize the highest value practice areas, selecting the areas they have the most trouble in. Practice math problems they normally have trouble with and recalling the fundamentals of math.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remind your students to figure out what areas they need to focus on the most, and keep practicing. Remind them to not get discouraged if they encounter problems. The more they practice the easier it will get.