The Structure of the PSAT Reading Section

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  • 0:00 PSAT Reading
  • 1:00 The Passages
  • 2:33 The Questions
  • 3:56 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.

Get a helpful preview of the structure of the reading test on the new PSAT: what kind of passages and questions you'll see, what the section structure is like, and how to approach it strategically to maximize your score.

PSAT Reading

Once upon a time, there was a bookworm so sedulous that she actually knew what sedulous meant. When the time came for her to take the PSAT, she worried about the math section, but she knew she would ace the reading test. After all, she'd just won a national prize for her analysis of Christian symbolism and ecclesiastical discourse in the gender politics of Hamlet. One measly standardized test couldn't pose much of a challenge, right?

Unfortunately for our bookworm, the PSAT reading test really isn't like that. It's not the same kind of reading you do in class, which is why it can help to get a preview of the test structure beforehand. So, let's take a look at what's actually on the test.

The PSAT reading test is part of the evidence-based reading and writing section. On the test, you'll have 60 minutes for 47 questions. Those questions are based on reading passages. We'll start with a look at the passages and then move on to the questions.

The Passages

If you break it down to the most basic form, what you do on the PSAT reading test is read passages and answer questions about them. All the questions on the test will be based on passages given right there on the test. There won't be any questions about outside information or other books you've read in English class.

PSAT passages are usually between 500 and 750 words long. Sometimes, you'll get one long passage followed by a group of questions. Other times, you'll get a pair of shorter passages instead of one long passage. In this case, the passages will be related somehow and the questions will ask you about one or both passages.

On the test, you'll get one literature passage (this might be from U.S. or world literature); one passage or pair of passages from important American political texts, or from a text that responds to them; one passage or pair of passages on a social science topic, like economics or psychology; and two passages (or one passage plus one pair) on a physical science topic, like biology or geology.

Some passages will also have graphical elements, like charts and tables. For example, you might get a passage about economics that comes with a graph of interest rates during the timespan discussed in the passage. You'll have to read the passages quickly so you can move on to the questions, but do make sure to read them or at least skim them. The questions are designed specifically to trap you into correct-sounding answers that aren't actually right, especially if you haven't read the passage.

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