Question Types for PSAT Passage-Based Readings

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
Get to know the PSAT Reading Test better! This lesson discusses the types of questions that you will need to answer in the PSAT Reading Test to prepare you to feel confident as you go to take the PSAT.

About the PSAT

When people have to take a test, the first thing they want to know is what they will be tested on. Getting to know more about test makes you feel ready and empowered to take the test with confidence. The PSAT is no exception.

The Preliminary SAT, better known as the PSAT, is a 139-question test that must be completed in 165 minutes. The PSAT has three tests which include a Math Test, Writing and Language Test, and Reading Test.

PSAT Reading Test

The PSAT Reading Test consists of several passages that you have to read as well as 47 multiple choice questions that ask you about the passages. You have 60 minutes to read all of the passages and answer all of the questions.

There are four types of reading passages on the PSAT Reading Test:

  • US and World Literature
  • History/Social Studies
  • Social Science
  • Science

Purpose of PSAT Reading Questions

Often, understanding the purpose of the questions on an exam can help you to better answer the questions. In the case of the PSAT Reading Test, the purpose of the questions is to test your reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is your capacity and skill to understand what you read. That is why you are given a passage of text and then asked questions about the passage.

The questions on the PSAT Reading Test will not be surface questions about 'what' happened in the text. For example, you will not be asked what color a character's hair was. Instead, the questions will be the types of 'why' questions that make you think hard and dig a little deeper. These 'why' questions will ask 'why' a certain character acted one way in the text or 'why' the author chose to write something a certain way. You will need to find clues from the passage to inform your answer. Just know that it will not be as simple as finding the answer to a 'what' question.

PSAT reading questions are more likely to ask why than what

Question Types

Now that you know that the purpose of the PSAT Reading Test is to measure your reading comprehension, what types of questions will be used to accomplish that purpose? There are three types of questions on the PSAT Reading Test: word meaning questions, overall intent questions, and evidence questions. An understanding of the three question types will help you to prepare for the exam.

Words in Context

Some questions on the PSAT Reading Test will require you to understand words in context. The way that you will demonstrate this understanding of the word's meaning is usually by choosing a synonym, or word that means nearly the same thing as the other word.

'Contained' most nearly means

a. held

b. quarantined

c. managed

d. absorbed

In this question, you are directed to a certain line of the passage and to a specific word from that passage. If you understand what 'contained' means on that line, then you can know which of the other four words are synonyms to 'contained'.

Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science

Another type of overall intent question is one that asks you to analyze subjects in history/social studies or science, such as information presented in graphs. The example below focuses on summarizing the contents of a graph:

Which statement best summarizes the information presented in the graph?

a. More people skipped work after a concert than those that skipped work after drinking.

b. The number of people skipping work is increasing.

c. The number of people skipping work is decreasing because of managers' influence.

d. The amount of people skipping work is decreasing because the economy is more difficult.

Command of Evidence

Another type of question on the PSAT Reading Test is used to test your command of evidence. Some questions will ask about the main purpose of the passage, such as the example below:

The main purpose of the passage is to

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