First Full-Length PSAT Reading Test: Post-Mortem

If you’ve been following me recently, you know I’m doing a short series on the recently released official new PSAT, which is slotted to roll out in late 2015.

In Part 1, I unveiled my general impressions about the test. Click HERE if you missed it.

This is Part 2, the nitty gritty about the new reading section, which will continue to be one of the toughest section to improve.

As promised by the Collegeboard, the test didn’t directly test any random, obscure vocab, though the stories themselves continue to use big words throughout. Gone are the fill-in-the-blank sentence completions. However, there were a number of “vocab in context” questions, which the SAT has always had (just like the current ACT). These problems test shades of meaning or secondary/tertiary meanings of words. None of the tested words were particularly hard in and of themselves, but they do require a stronger grasp of the story nuances. I actually got one of these questions wrong, quite embarrassingly.

It was a passage about bringing extinct animals back to life…whoo…the stuff of science fiction (except it might not be so far from reality)! The question asked what the word “deepest” meant in this line: “Just the thought of mammoths and passenger pigeons alive again invokes the awe and wonder that drives all conservation at its deepest level.” I failed here because I misread “conservation” as “conversation”…similar spelling, but totally different idea!

Now, a word of caution: even though this particular mock PSAT didn’t seem to have many tough vocab questions, Collegeboard has also released a 216-page document revealing some practice questions on the new SAT. Those questions included some tough words still such as advocate, agitate, ambivalent, appropriations, astute, bridle, conspicuous, empirically, evoke, diminution, hyperbole, gaiety, hearth, immunity, inimical, jurisdiction, maxim, maladministration, petty, poignancy, prone, reciprocate, reverberate, siphon, solemn, stymied, subversion, tyrannical, vivacious, and more.

Don’t expect vocab to go away – it’s still highly important, though I guess the words now tend to see more real-world usage.

What I really hate about the new reading section are the “double whammy” questions, of which there are many. These are actually paired questions in which the test asks you a normal question, then in the following question, asks you which line in the story supports your choice in the previous question. If you get the first one wrong, you automatically get the second question wrong. How unfair! Reminds me of my high school days. For some reason, my teacher loved giving tests in that format, except she was even crueler…she would have 3 or 4 questions grouped together like that. Ugh.

The good thing about these double whammy questions, though, is that you can check the four possible choices for line number references. If you’re struggling to find the answer yourself in the passage, the answer choices give you only four possible places to look, so that helps narrow down your searching. You still have to actually understand those lines and the context around them though.

The passages themselves felt on par with the current SAT reading passages though. I didn’t feel they were any easier or harder. My Divide and Conquer strategy seemed to hold up decently too, so that was nice. The questions generally went in order of the story, except for the main idea questions of course. You still need to wait until the end of the passage to do those.

They also threw in a few graphs and charts at the end of some of the stories, then asked you to connect the data there with lines in the story. Nothing too tough there, just different. It’s a bit like the ACT Science graphs/charts, to be honest. If you’re not used to reading graphs, you might struggle here.

I’m not a fan of the timing: 60 minutes for 47 questions. Let me tell you, in my years of tutoring, the students who can stay focused all the way through even the current 20 or 25 minute reading sections are few and far between. May God have mercy.

Of all the sections, I think reading has undergone the least surgery, but even then, the changes are quite noticeable. Even the traditional traps don’t seem to be so prevalent anymore.

Part 1: New PSAT General Impressions
Part 2: New PSAT Reading (this is the current article)
Part 3: New PSAT Writing & Language
Part 4: New PSAT Math

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