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Approaches

Long-Term Preparation

  • Take a good selection of solid academic courses, read widely, and work hard at your studies.
  • Enroll in the most challenging courses you can handle in English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign languages, and fine arts.
  • Get involved in problem-solving activities through clubs, sports, hobbies, part-time jobs, etc.

Short-Term Approaches and Strategies

  • Take the practice test in the Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT.
  • Learn the directions for each type of math and critical reading question.
  • Try sample questions from past tests.
  • Earn as many points as you can on easy questions.
  • Read all the answer choices before marking your answer sheet.
  • Do your scratchwork in the test book.
  • Don't feel you have to answer every question.
  • Work steadily -- don't waste time on hard questions. You can always go back to them later.
  • Check your answer sheet regularly to make sure you're in the right place.
  • Write your answers to grid-ins in the boxes above the ovals.
  • Try educated guessing when you can eliminate at least one answer to a multiple-choice question. Be sure you understand the difference between educated and random guessing. See below.
  • Take a calculator.

About Guessing

Educated guessing means guessing an answer whenever you are able to eliminate one or more of the choices as definitely wrong. Educated guessing may help you.

Random guessing probably won't help you because of the way the test is scored. Random guessing means that you have no idea which answer choice is correct. Don't waste time on that kind of question. Move on to the next one.

Reminder

You can earn an above-average score by getting only half the questions right and omitting the rest.

  • On the Tuesday test in 1999, for example, students who answered 26 of the 52 critical reading questions correctly and omitted the others earned a score of 51. On the Saturday test, students who answered 26 critical reading questions correctly and omitted the others earned a score of 52.
  • Students who answered 20 of the 40 math questions correctly on the Tuesday test (and omitted the rest) earned a score of 50; on the Saturday test, they earned a score of 51.
  • Students who answered 19 of the 39 writing skills questions correctly on the Tuesday or the Saturday test (and omitted the rest) earned a score of 54.
  • Because you lose a fraction of a point for questions you get wrong, if you answered some questions incorrectly you would need a slightly higher number of correct answers than the numbers above to earn a score of 50.