A First Look at the Redesigned PSAT

As part of my in-flight entertainment when I flew home from Morocco (more on that trip here), I took part of the practice redesigned PSAT.  Do I know how to have a good time, or what?!  This test is the model for the upcoming October 2015 exam, which is used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test for Juniors.  The new format also gives us a glimpse of what we might expect from the redesigned SAT, which debuts in March 2016.

The portion I took was the no-calculator math section: 25 minutes, 17 questions.  Thirteen of these questions were multiple choice (4 options each), and four were free-response.  Most students who earn As in challenging math courses--especially in algebra and with teachers who prohibit calculator use at times--will find this section quite doable.  The majority of students I have worked with over the past nearly 9 years, however, would likely feel at a loss on half of these questions.  The questions are designed, in the true SAT spirit, to test the math reasoning and processing of students, especially in the area of algebraic thinking (the "heart of algebra" as the College Board terms it).  Students who do not take to algebra naturally should be ready to spend significant time improving these skills in order to perform well on this section.  Test prep, anyone??

 A classic College Board math problem testing algebraic thinking, sampled from the practice redesigned PSAT

A classic College Board math problem testing algebraic thinking, sampled from the practice redesigned PSAT

Regardless of natural ability, all students will need to stay focused when taking this section.  Questions require solutions which feature many opportunities for students to slip up (e.g., distributing negatives, flipping fractions, swapping variable values).  But isn't that what we love to hate about College Board tests already?