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Create a Battle Plan for PSAT/NMSQT Math

You don’t have to finish every math problem on the PSAT/NMSQT. On the PSAT/NMSQT, you can achieve a high score even if you leave some answers blank. You’re supposed to complete a total of 38 problems in 50 minutes. Math genius that you are, you’ve probably already calculated the amount of time you have for each question: 1.315789 minutes, give or take a nanosecond.

But here’s the catch: Not all math questions are equally hard, even though each is worth the same — one point. Therefore, clever strategy maximizes your score.

The test-makers put the easier questions first and the harder questions later. Within each category of math (geometry or probability, for example), the questions also move from easy to hard. You want to move as quickly as possible, then, through the first six or seven questions in each math section.

Don’t go too fast, or you may miss a key word in the question or mess up some simple arithmetic. Then you’ll arrive at the hard questions with plenty of time, but you won’t have raked in all those “may as well be free” points from the beginning of the section.

The grid-ins form a mini-section. The first couple of grid-ins are easy, the next couple a bit more difficult, and the last problems harder still. If the last few multiple-choice problems stump you, skip them and move to the grid-ins. Return to those questions later, if time permits.

You lose a quarter point for each wrong multiple-choice answer. You receive no points for an incorrect grid-in, but the scorers make no additional deduction for a wrong answer in that type of question. You may end up with a lower score if you answer every multiple-choice question but make a bunch of errors. So, it pays to guess on grid-ins, but not necessarily on multiple choice.

Words such as hard and easy are subjective (personal to each individual). You may gobble up a triangle question that your classmate sweats over and then struggle with an equation that is obvious to someone else. Luckily, answering practice problems can help you identify your own strengths and weaknesses. When you take practice exams, notice how quickly you can correctly complete the problems that are your forte (area of excellence).

Here’s your strategy:

  • Answer all the easy, early questions. Read the question, decide how to do it, and then answer it.

  • With an eye on the clock, answer all or most of the medium-difficulty questions. These are the seven or eight middle questions. If you encounter (meet) a tough question in the middle of a section, circle it and go back to it if you have time.

    If you skip a question, be sure that you skip the answer line also. A good technique is to say (in your head only, not aloud) something like “the answer to number 12 is C” as you darken the oval. Keep track of where you are!

  • Hit the last four or five questions in each math section only if time permits. Even there, in the “hard question zone,” you may find something that’s easy — for you. Solve what you can.

  • After you’ve seen all the questions, go back to anything you skipped. Zero in on the type of question in which you excel. Try those problems again, and keep going until time runs out.

  • Try not to skip a grid-in. You aren’t penalized for wrong answers in this type of question, so if you have time, put something in, even if you’re stumped. However, don’t waste too much time on a grid-in if you have absolutely no idea how to do the problem. Spend the extra minute working on a problem you skipped that may earn you a point.

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