PSAT Reading Section: Test Taking Strategies

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  • 0:00 The Reading Test
  • 0:48 Question Order
  • 3:00 Answering Questions
  • 4:03 Skipping & Guessing
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Are you ready to ace the PSAT Reading Test? Bone up on strategy first and then learn where to find the easy questions, how to manage your time, and the 3-step approach for avoiding trap answers.

The Reading Test

When it comes to standardized testing, everyone seems to have a different secret method for success. Sometimes, the weird personal strategies really do work - everyone is different, and different techniques work for different people. But there are also some strategy hints that almost everyone will find useful because they speak to the problems that make the PSAT hard for everyone.

One of those problems is time. On the PSAT, you don't just have to answer questions; you have to do it under time pressure. With 47 questions in 60 minutes, it's not just about finding the right answer, it's about finding it fast. In this lesson, we'll go over some tips and strategies to help you work through questions quickly, without sacrificing accuracy.

Question Order

The first way to boost your score is to get smart about question order. On the PSAT, all questions are worth exactly the same number of points - you don't get any extra for the hard ones. Many students won't have time to hit every single question - there are just too many, and your time is too short. And that's okay! You can get a good score without spending time on every single question.

Considering that you probably won't be able to cover every single question, it only makes sense to go for the easy ones first. Start with the questions you have the best chance of answering correctly, and then move on to the hard ones if you have time at the end.

On the PSAT Reading test, you'll read passages and answer questions about them. The basic structure of the test is one passage, and then a group of questions about that passage, and then another passage with questions about that passage, and so on.

For each passage, the questions don't go from easy to hard. Instead, they very roughly follow the order of the passage, with some questions sprinkled in about the passage as a whole. That doesn't mean they're all the same difficulty level, though. There are still easy and hard questions; they're just all mixed together.

It's hard to spot which passage questions will be easier, but a quick rule of thumb is to first briefly skim the passage, and then start with the questions that give you specific line numbers. Those questions are usually faster, because they tell you exactly where to go to find the answer. You won't have to spend time hunting for it in the passage, because you already have a rough idea. After you're done with the line-number questions, then move on to the other types.

It also helps to know where your specific weaknesses are, so you can save those questions for last. For example, the PSAT Reading test includes some questions with graphs and charts. If you always get those wrong, save them till last so that if you run out of time, at least you ran out of time on questions you'd probably get wrong anyway. Another good strategy is to find your least-favorite passage type. For example, the PSAT typically includes one fiction passage. If you always struggle with those questions, spend your time on the easier passage and leave the fiction passage until last.

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