In the middle of spring, many 10th grade students and their parents are looking ahead to junior year of high school, a critical foundation year for college planning and preparation. This junior year will be different in one important respect. There will be a new PSAT in October.

Tied to changes in the SAT I Reasoning Test arriving in March 2005, the adaptations in the PSAT will challenge juniors to read more critically and solve more challenging math problems.

The PSAT, often referred to as the “preliminary” or “practice” SAT, is not used by colleges for admission purposes, but it is the first measure used to select students for the National Merit Scholarship Program and it can provide students with an initial assessment of how well they will perform on the SAT I, still the most common standardized college admission test.

The PSAT offers a good chance to practice the test-taking skills necessary for strong performance on the SAT and to assess one’s standing relative to other college-bound students. Even though the PSAT doesn’t “count” for college admission, you should still prepare for it so that your performance is a reasonable indicator of your future SAT results.

This year, it is particularly important that you take note of the changes in the PSAT, since preparing for them will help you prepare for the new SAT I the following spring.

As with the new SAT, verbal analogies and quantitative comparisons will be removed from the PSAT. Short reading comprehension paragraphs will be added to the Critical Reading section, the new name for the verbal section. Unlike the new SAT I, you will not have to write an actual essay or answer math questions covering algebra II.

In the new Critical Reading section, you will not have to answer tricky analogy questions (rain is to storm as wool is to…). The emphasis will shift to proper completion of sentences and responding to questions based on longer and shorter reading passages. Vocabulary skills will still be important, but how you use vocabulary in context and reading for meaning will take precedence.

In the math section, quantitative comparisons are gone, so you will need to put more emphasis on answering more arithmetic, algebra I and geometry questions in multiple choice and student produced response (grid-in) formats.

You won’t need to know algebra II content until the SAT I in the spring, when most juniors have completed that class.

You will have a writing section that asks you to answer multiple-choice grammatical questions identifying sentence errors, improving sentences, and improving paragraphs.

The focus of the new PSAT is even more centered on fundamental reading, writing and mathematical skills.

How do you prepare?

Read as much as you can and use an English language dictionary and a grammatical guide as companions to help improve your vocabulary, comprehension, and grammatical skills. Get at least one test-prep book from a company like Peterson’s, Kaplan, the College Board, Barron’s, or the Princeton Review to learn more about test content and format. Visit these companies’ and other Web sites for practice questions and tips and practice.

If you feel you need more hel.p ask your school counselor, teachers or friends for recommendations for local tutors to help you organize your thinking and fill gaps in your knowledge or skills. You should not overemphasize the importance of test taking compared to your regular schoolwork, but starting to get ready for the PSAT from August to October will help you do your best on the test and be as ready as possible for the SAT later in the year. With your PSAT results in hand in January you can assess how much you need to do to get ready for the SAT in March, May or June.

(Howard and Matthew Greene are the authors of the “Greenes’ Guides to Educational Planning.” Readers can send questions to them at 60 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06880 or via e-mail:

(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

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