Redesigned PSAT attracts increased number of test takers

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Originally published on November 17, 2015

A redesigned PSAT made its debut to sophomores and juniors on Oct. 14 and was met with an increased number of junior test-takers and an array of opinions.

Put into effect for the first time this year, the new Preliminary SAT requires students to answer 139 questions in two hours and 45 minutes, according to the College Board website. There are two sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing, which replaced the critical reading and writing skills sections from the old test. Although the PSAT is now longer than the previous two-hour and 10-minute version which had 125 questions, the time per question is approximately the same, according to the Princeton Review website.

“I find it harder to answer the newer questions, which require you to look at the context of a longer passage and understand the work overall.”

The redesigned test has no penalty for wrong answers, and scores are reported on a scale of 320 to 1520, with each of the two sections’ scores ranging from 160 to 760. This scoring system is on the same scale as that of the redesigned SAT, which will be put into effect in March 2016.

A major change in PSAT is the increase of real world context, according to the College Board website. It is less vocabulary-driven and requires more synthesis and analysis. Charts and passages on the test are all similar to those that students may encounter in a variety of career fields. In addition, science and social studies are integrated into the test to bring awareness to environmental matters, politics and events around the world. Every test includes a passage from one of the United States founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, or a passage by those involved in the international conversations that followed the documents, like Nelson Mandela.

Juniors are not required to take the PSAT, but the number of juniors that took the test has increased since last year, according to assistant principal of curriculum Dacotah Swett. “Because the test is the new design intended to give students practice for the new SAT which will be administered for the first time next March, it was in their best interest to have a practice test,” Swett said. She stated that she is in communication with the PTSA about additional funding so that all juniors can be tested next year.

Junior Rose Jung said that she thought the old version was easier, particularly the reading and writing section, but that the level of math questions remained the same. “I think the old test had questions that were more straightforward, so I liked the old one more,” Jung said. “I find it harder to answer the newer questions, which require you to look at the context of a longer passage and understand the work overall.”

“There is less emphasis on having a memorized vocabulary, so in that respect, it could be a measure of how well students can solve problems and think critically.”

Junior Elise Ho said that she saw a drastic change in the reading and writing section of the new PSAT. “The questions were more geared towards deriving the intentions of the passages as a whole, rather than determining the meanings of individual words and sentences,” Ho said. “I did enjoy taking this year’s PSAT more because I felt that trying to understand the motives of the authors was more interesting and less tedious than defining vocabulary words and completing analogies.”

Sophomores were required to take the PSAT. Their exams are paid for by San Francisco Promise, according to Swett. San Francisco Promise is a partnership between the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the Mayor’s office and San Francisco State University. It provides college-readiness services to students, beginning in sixth grade.

Swett expressed approval of the new PSAT. “There is less emphasis on having a memorized vocabulary, so in that respect, it could be a measure of how well students can solve problems and think critically,” Swett said. “I would say that it is an improvement over the older exam.”