The new PSAT reading section

The College Board has finally released The Official SAT Study Guide for the test that begins in March 2016. The book’s introduction states that a practice PSAT will be available to schools in September.  That test will follow a similar format to the new SAT, but it will be less time consuming and  will not include the “optional” writing prompt. (It will, however, be longer than previous PSAT’s.) In fact, the tests are much more closely aligned to the alternative college entrance exam, the ACT, than they have been in the past.Change appears in all aspects of the test from format to strategies and content, so I will devote several blogs to the changes.

For instance, the previous  PSAT’s contained three subject areas (reading, writing, math), and these were then sub-divided into separate sections on the test.  The “new and improved” tests consist of only two major subject areas (verbal and math) and subdivide their results into “sub-scores.”  Hence, the tests no longer separate the subjects into shorter test sections. For purposes of brevity and simplicity, I will address only the reading section here. (The quotations come from the workbook pages.)

First of all, the College Board has eliminated the sentence completion section. Vocabulary appears only in context of the passages.  The reading passages will derive from three major sources: US and world literature, history/social studies, and science. Some of these excerpts can be primary documents such as historical speeches or natural science or social science reports. The difficulty levels vary within a test but will purportedly be similar among different test publications.

“Evidence-based” questions and analyses are key components of the new reading test, which will assess the students’ abilities in the following areas:”Information and Ideas, Rhetoric, and Synthesis.”  Thus, students must demonstrate good critical thinking skills  Essential skills for information analysis include: “Citing textual evidence, summarizing, determining central ideas and themes.”  Test takers will also face questions about the writer’s “textual structure, word choice, point of view, purpose, and arguments.”   Furthermore, the synthesis questions include “analyzing multiple texts and quantitative information.” Thus, students will have to interpret “informational graphics” and charts.  They will have to pinpoint areas in the selections that prove their answers.Each passage will have about ten questions.  The workbook defines the passage complexities as: “Defined ranges from grades 9-10 to early post secondary.”

The skill sets for testing are admirable and far-reaching. Will the testing drive curriculum changes? The results from the first cohort of test takers may provide some valuable information.






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