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Need-to-Know Tips and Strategies for the PSAT/NMSQT

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, March 24, 2014

One big idea for doing your best on the PSAT

Relax the night before the PSAT test
Don't cram for the PSAT. You are being tested on knowledge that you have accumulated over the course of the year. Your PSAT prep has been going on for months, if not years. Studying at the last minute will only stress you out. If you are looking for the best PSAT score you can earn, go to a movie or hang out with a friend—anything to get your mind off of the test!

Test-specific knowledge that can help you earn higher PSAT scores

Prepare for the Test
Be sure to get yourself at least partially familiar with what you're likely to find on the PSAT. You can do so easily by using Peterson's own free online PSAT practice test.

Critical Reading: Sentence Completions
Sentence Completion questions on the PSAT test both your vocabulary and your understanding of the logic of a sentence. Each question features a sentence containing either one or two blanks. Your job is to figure out which answer choice correctly completes the sentence. As you read the sentence, try to predict what word should go in each blank. Sometimes you can guess the meaning of one blank, but not the other. In that case, scan the answer choices, looking for a word similar to the one you've predicted, and then eliminate the answer choices that don't match up.

Critical Reading: Reading Comprehension
Critical Reading now includes both long and short reading passages. Skim each passage to see what it's about. Don't worry about the details—you can always look them up later if you need to. Just look for the main ideas. Then tackle the questions that direct you straight to the answer by referring you to a specific line in the passage. If you have time afterward, you can try solving the harder questions.

Writing: Multiple-Choice
There are three types of multiple-choice writing questions on the PSAT/NMSQT. The first group, Improving Sentences, tasks you with selecting the correct version—the one that is clearly written and grammatically correct—of an underlined portion of a sentence. Sentence Error questions ask you to figure out which part of a sentence contains an error. Those on Improving Paragraphs test your ability to organize and clarify information. For all of these question types, think about the simplest, clearest way to express an idea. If an answer choice sounds awkward or overly complicated, chances are good that it's wrong.

Math: Multiple-Choice
As you work through the multiple-choice math questions, you'll be given reference information (formulas and facts), but you'll need to know how to use them. You're allowed to use a calculator, but, again, it won't help you unless you know how to approach the problems. If you're stuck, try substituting numbers for variables. You can also try plugging in numbers from the answer choices. Start with the middle number. That way, if it doesn't work, you can strategically choose a higher or lower number.

Math: Grid-In
These PSAT questions are not multiple-choice—you have to come up with an answer and fill it into a grid. The grid does not contain a minus sign, so there is no way to indicate that a value is less than zero. That means that an answer can't be a negative number. Unlike with the multiple-choice questions, your PSAT score won't be penalized for wrong answers, so make your best guess even if you're not sure. You can't grid mixed numbers, so if you get a mixed number as an answer, you'll have to convert it to an improper fraction or a decimal.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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