The PSAT/NMSQT recently underwent a significant transformation. As of October 2023, this important stepping stone in a student’s academic journey is 100% digital, bringing several key changes that students and teachers should be aware of. We’ll delve into the details and provide guidance on how to prepare for the digital shift effectively. In addition to informing students about their academic strengths and weaknesses, the PSAT allows students to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program and other scholarships.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences between the traditional paper-and-pencil PSAT/NMSQT and the new digital version of the exam by covering how the following key aspects will impact high school educators, counselors, and students.
- Devices and Testing Materials
- Overview and Structure
- Testing Tools
- What Remains Unchanged?
- What is Changing?
- What to Expect on the Reading and Writing Section
- What to Expect on the Math Section
- Test Day Items
- PSAT/NMSQT Scoring
Devices and Testing Materials
In most cases, schools participating in the PSAT/NMSQT will provide school-managed devices for testing. These school devices will have the Bluebook app pre-downloaded and will be fully charged and ready for testing. However, if your school permits you to use a personal device, it is essential to download the exam app onto your device before the test day.
Additionally, students should have a pencil or pen ready for any necessary note-taking, though scratch paper will be provided. The test itself will be downloaded at the time of the exam. To stay connected and receive scores promptly, students can enter their mobile number, which will grant access to the Big Future School mobile app for score delivery to their phones.
To prepare for the digital PSAT, students should begin by downloading the Bluebook test app.
- Explore the test previews to get acquainted with the test’s platform and structure.
- Try out the app’s functions.
- Attempt a selection of Reading and Writing, as well as Math questions, to gain confidence ahead of test day.
- Experiment with all the testing tools to understand how they function.
We strongly advise taking a full-length practice test through the Bluebook app. This practice test allows students to simulate the real testing experience, offering a taste of what to expect on exam day and building student confidence. If students plan to use a personal device for testing, they should take this opportunity to verify that it’s compatible with the app and ready for test day. The full-length practice test will also provide a practice score to gauge performance.
Overview and Structure
The new digital PSAT is divided into two main sections – Reading and Math. The test is now shorter and has more time per question. The test is expected to take around two hours to complete. Each of the two test sections is further divided into two equal-length modules. These modules are separately timed, allowing students to move between questions within a module, both forward and backward, as they work through the test. There’s also a scheduled break between the two sections. It’s important to note that the PSAT/NMSQT adheres to the same timing guidelines as other tests in the digital SAT Suite.
Timeline for Implementation
The College Board launched an international version of the digital SAT in March 2023, so international students already have experience with this new format. The transition to the U.S. starts in October 2023 with the PSAT in digital format and the new digital SAT making its U.S. debut on March 9, 2024. Similar to the pencil-and-paper SAT, the new dSAT will still be administered at a school or testing site. Students will not take this exam from home.
Upon completing the digital PSAT test, scores are automatically submitted. Students can expect to receive their scores within a few weeks, along with detailed information about what those scores signify for their academic journey.
Students have several tools are at their disposal to aid in their performance on the digital PSAT/NMSQT:
- A reference sheet for math formulas is provided.
- Students have the option to use a provided calculator or bring their own approved calculator.
- Students can highlight and make annotations within the app as they work through questions. For instance, they can leave notes for themselves on a specific question.
- On multiple-choice questions, students can cross out answer choices and tag questions they want to revisit.
What Remains Unchanged?
The digital SAT Suite, which includes the PSAT/NMSQT, continues to evaluate the skills and knowledge students must acquire in school to demonstrate their college and career readiness. The scoring system remains consistent with the same score scale used in traditional paper and pencil tests. For instance, the PSAT/NMSQT will still be scored on a 320–1520 point scale. The two sections of the digital PSAT/NMSQT— (1) Reading and Writing and (2) Math—measure skills and knowledge similar to their paper-based versions. These include:
- Diverse Passages: The test retains the use of reading and writing passages from various subject areas, featuring varying levels of difficulty.
- Command of Evidence: It places strong emphasis on demonstrating your command of evidence, both textual and quantitative.
- High-Utility Vocabulary: Students will still encounter high-utility words and phrases in context.
- Text Revision: Anticipate a focus on revising texts to enhance the effectiveness of written expression and meet specific rhetorical goals.
- Language Conventions: The measurement of student ability to edit texts to adhere to core conventions of Standard English in sentence structure, usage, and punctuation remains.
- Math for Success: The math section still concentrates on the math skills most essential for college and career readiness and success. It includes math problems both within and outside of specific contexts.
- Question Formats: The test maintains the use of both multiple-choice and student-produced response question formats in the Math section.
While much remains consistent, there are notable changes in the digital PSAT/NMSQT:
- Shorter Duration: The digital format is substantially shorter, lasting 2 hours and 14 minutes as opposed to the nearly 3 hours required for the paper and pencil test.
- Ample Time per Question: You’ll have more time on average to answer each question. This means that the digital PSAT/NMSQT places a greater focus on assessing your skills and knowledge, rather than testing your speed.
- Shorter Reading Passages: The digital version includes shorter reading passages to enhance the testing experience.
- Built-In Calculator: The digital PSAT/NMSQT features a built-in calculator that can be used for the entire Math section, making calculations more convenient.
What to Expect on the Reading and Writing Section
The Reading and Writing section of the PSAT/NMSQT is strategically crafted to assess your proficiency in building essential literacy skills for college and career readiness. In this section, you will engage with a series of multiple-choice questions that test your ability to:
- Read, comprehend, and effectively employ information and ideas derived from texts.
- Analyze the craft and structure of texts, discerning their underlying elements.
- Revise texts to enhance the rhetorical expression of ideas.
- Edit texts to adhere to the fundamental conventions of Standard English.
The basis for answering these questions lies in the passages provided. These passages encompass a broad spectrum of subject areas, including literature, history/social studies, the humanities, and science. Each passage is accompanied by a single question.
To assist you in managing your time effectively, the questions within the Reading and Writing section are organized into four distinct content domains, as illustrated in the table that follows. This arrangement groups questions that assess similar skills and knowledge, progressively ranging from easier to more challenging. Notably, pretest questions, though included, do not contribute to your final score, allowing you to focus your efforts on the scored questions.
What to Expect on the Math Section
The Math section of the PSAT/NMSQT is meticulously crafted to gauge knowledge and skills critical for college and career readiness in mathematics. The exam covers the fundamental aspects across four key areas – algebra, advanced math, problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry.
Throughout this section, students will encounter a mix of multiple-choice questions and student-produced response questions. These questions are tailored to assess fluency with, understanding of, and ability to apply the most essential mathematical concepts, skills, and practices.
Approximately 30% of the math questions are presented in a contextual format. These contextual “word” questions tasks students with applying mathematical skills and knowledge within the framework of science, social studies, or real-world scenarios. These word questions require not only mathematical proficiency but also an understanding of the broader context in which these problems are situated. Some questions within this section are complemented by informational graphics.
Questions from all four content domains—algebra, advanced math, problem-solving and data analysis, and geometry and trigonometry—are interspersed throughout each test module. These questions are systematically arranged, progressing from the easiest to the most challenging, allowing for students to demonstrate their mathematical knowledge and capabilities. Pretest questions do not count toward a final score.
Test Day Items
The following items are required for taking the PSAT/NMSQT:
- A pen or pencil for scratch work (it doesn’t have to be a No. 2 pencil).
- A fully charged, acceptable testing device with Bluebook already downloaded.
- A valid photo ID for check-in if testing as an Away Student.
Though not required, consider bringing:
- Snacks and drinks (which must be under your desk during testing)
- An acceptable calculator—please see psat.org/calculator for full list—for use on the Math section of the test (if you prefer using a handheld calculator to using the embedded Desmos calculator in the Bluebook app)
- Extra batteries, a power cord, and backup calculator
- Layers to adapt to the temperature of the testing environment
The PSAT/NMSQT is scored to provide a comprehensive evaluation of a student’s performance. Here’s how the scoring process works:
- Scoring of Individual Questions: Each test question is initially scored as either correct or incorrect. There is no penalty for guessing, so it’s encouraged to attempt all questions.
- Factors Considered: The scoring process takes into account several factors related to each question beyond simply did they get it right or wrong. For example, this process incorporates how easy it might be to guess the answer and how well the question differentiates skill level.
- Total Score: Students receive a total score, which is the sum of their scores on the two main sections of the test: Reading and Writing, and Math. The range for the total score is 320-1520 and the range for each section is 160-760.
- Scaled Score: The raw score, calculated based on the above considerations, is then converted to the reported scaled score. The scaled score falls within the range of 160–760 for each section of the test.
- Selection Index: The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses what is called the Selection Index score as an initial screening for potential scholarship recipients. The NMSC Selection Index score is calculated by doubling the Reading and Writing score and adding it to the Math score. The Selection Index is this sum divided by 10. For example, a Reading and Writing section score of 610 and Math Section score of 550 would result in a Selection Index score of 177.
This standardized approach aims to provide a fair and accurate assessment of a student’s abilities and knowledge.
The shift to a digital PSAT/NMSQT opens up new opportunities and challenges for students and teachers alike. With the right preparation and understanding of the digital format, students can excel in this important assessment, potentially opening doors to valuable scholarships and educational opportunities. Teachers and family support for students is pivotal as they navigate this transition, ensuring students are ready to tackle this digital milestone in their academic journey.
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