Redesigned PSAT Reading: First Impressions

Wrapping up my final night at Swarthmore College for IECA's Summer Training Institute, I went a little wild in my dorm and took the 2015 Practice PSAT Reading section!  I know: I'm a nut.

This section is 60 minutes with 47 questions divided across 5 passages, one of which is a set of shorter paired passages.  I finished with 22 minutes left.  There is generous time per question on this section!  Here are the passage sources:

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World by Marina Gorbis
  • "Lessons from the Torpid" by Tina Hesman Saey
  • "Wealth" by Andrew Carnegie
  • "The Case for Reviving Extinct Species" by Stewart Brand AND "Why Efforts to Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead Miss the Point" by the editors at Scientific American [paired passage set]

In all, there were 1 fiction, 2 social sciences, and 2 natural sciences passages.  Two of the passages were from older sources (pre-twentieth century) and the other three were from the past three years.  Naturally, the older sourced passages, from Austen and Carnegie, had more difficult language.

A new feature on this redesigned PSAT is the use of "evidence" questions.  The student will be given a normal question, and he'll answer it, per usual.  Then, the next question may ask "Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?", followed by four line references.  Students have to choose the lines that illustrate the answer to the previous question.  On this practice test, there were ten of these questions, two per passage.

Another feature that students would not have found on the old PSAT Reading is graphs.  This practice section included two simplistic graphs, and some of the questions asked what the graphs represented or how they related to the passages.  If you read my feedback about the Writing section, this addition should not surprise you: science concepts are woven throughout the test in an interdisciplinary way in lieu of having a separate science section.

Is this section harder or easier than the old Critical Reading PSAT sections?  Honestly, it depends on who you ask and who you are as a student.  If you're interested in getting ready for this PSAT (especially if you're a rising junior in spittin' range of National Merit), let me know!