Types & Content of PSAT Reading Passages

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
Preparing to take the PSAT? This lesson explores the types of reading passages that you will find on the reading portion of the PSAT. Let's get started!


Does the idea of taking the PSAT make your heart race and your palms sweat? Test taking can be a scary experience, but one way to beat test anxiety is to know what you are up against. Getting to know the PSAT and the types of reading passages on the Reading Test will empower you and calm test anxiety.

The PSAT (which stands for Preliminary SAT) is a test that takes 165 minutes and has 139 questions/tasks. The test is taken by students in their junior year of high school. Students take the test so that they can be considered for the National Merit Scholarship.

The PSAT is split into three tests:

  • Reading Test
  • Writing and Language Test
  • Math Test

The PSAT Reading Test

The PSAT Reading Test has 47 questions that need to be answered in 60 minutes. Each question is multiple choice. All of the questions are designed to test a student's comprehension of the information in the reading passage.

Types of Reading Passages in the PSAT

Each reading passage is roughly a page long and is labeled with numbers on every five lines so that questions can be asked about words or phrases on specific lines. This makes it easy for students to quickly find the line that the question is asking about. The passages for the reading test in the PSAT are there to test students' reading comprehension or ability to understand the meaning of the passage. All the information a student needs to answer each question on the PSAT Reading Test is contained within the passages. That means that a student does not need to have outside or previous knowledge of literature, history, or science to do well on the PSAT Reading Test.

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

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

The reading section of the PSAT tests reading comprehension

Although informational graphics, such as graphs or charts, may be included with some passages, you will not have to do any math to answer questions on the Reading Test. The types of passages that are most likely to have informational graphics include science and social science passages.

U.S. & World Literature Passages

Every PSAT Reading Test has one passage from a piece of US or world literature. For example, in one of the practice tests put forth by the College Board (the organization that administers the PSAT test), you can find a passage from Emma by Jane Austen. Emma was originally published in 1815 and is one of the more famous romance novels written by Austen.

History/Social Studies Passages

The PSAT Reading Test has at least one passage relating to history or social studies; this might be a founding document of the United States or a text from a famous leader or academic about history or social issues. Wealth by Andrew Carnegie, published in 1889, is an example of a reading passage that can be found in a College Board practice test. Sometimes students will see a pair of history/social studies passages on the PSAT Reading Test. This means that there are two shorter passages together and that the multiple choice questions will use information from both passages.

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