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What you need to know about the redesigned PSAT set to debut October 2015

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It’s no secret that the College Board plans to introduce a redesigned SAT Reasoning Test in March of 2016. But before the first group of college hopefuls sharpen their #2 pencils and tackle what could be a challenging and even longer SAT, they’ll have an opportunity to sit for a trial run with a redesigned PSAT, in October 2015.

Keeping in mind that the new PSAT will also serve as the National Merit© Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) for the Class of 2017, it’s worth noting that the October 2015 administration of the redesigned test will be more than just a sneak preview of what’s to come. It will be the single most important component of the highly visible and possibly most prestigious scholarship competition in the country worth thousands of dollars to those students who score well.

While the College Board will continue to administer the old SAT through January of 2016, the opportunity to sample the new test in October via the PSAT/NMSQT© is being billed as a chance to “help students in the 11th grade prepare for the SAT.”

But in the meantime, students who scored well in previous administrations of the PSAT and have some hope of earning “commended” or “finalist” status in the National Merit Scholarship competition will need to look closely at what’s coming down the pike and adjust their preparations to the new test—even if they plan to take the old SAT before it’s retired.

The good news is that most test prep experts are suggesting that students starting with the class of 2017 concentrate their preparation on building skills for the ACT, as the redesigned SAT is beginning to look a lot like that test. Students with an affinity for puzzles and the kinds of test-taking know-how rewarded by the old SAT will have to redirect their efforts to mastering core curriculum if they want to do well on either the new PSAT or the new SAT.

The College Board insists that the redesigned tests will continue the traditional emphasis on reasoning but only with “a clearer, stronger focus on the knowledge, skills, and understandings most important for college and career readiness and success.” This sounds remarkably like a description of the ACT.

And taking another page from the ACT, there will no longer be a guessing penalty on the PSAT. In addition, instead of five answer choices per multiple-choice question, new PSAT questions will only have four answer choices, giving students a better chance of guessing correctly with fewer answers to pick from—great news for the “lucky” among us.

It’s worth noting (both for students and in-school administrators) the redesigned PSAT will be substantially longer. In total, the new PSAT will take 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Critical Reading section will increase by 10 minutes; the Math section will increase by 20 minutes; and the Writing section will be 5 minutes longer. But sticking with the old format, there will be no essay.

Another interesting change for the PSAT involves scoring. While new “subscores” will be reported for every test, the overall scale will be the same as that used for the SAT—ranging from 400 to 1600 for the “composite” score and 200 to 800 for two “area” scores.

And for those curious about how this will relate to the National Merit Scholarship competition, the College Board is preparing concordance tables so students will be able to relate scores on the current PSAT/NMSQT to scores on the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT.

The College Board promises that sample questions to help students prepare for the PSAT will be available on collegeboard.org in December 2014/January 2015, and a full practice test will be available in March 2015.

You can bet that every test prep company in the country will be looking for those releases!

In the meantime, to keep current with changes in both the SAT and the PSAT, check the regularly up-dated College Board website.

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