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Tackling Different Types of PSAT Test Questions

By Geraldine Woods

Part of PSAT/NMSQT For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Test-writers aren’t explorers; they don’t like moving into new territory. Sad for them (they’re probably bored!), but good for you, because after you know where test-writers are comfortable, you can focus on those areas. Here’s a map to the questions and topics likely to show up on the PSAT/NMSQT.

  • Things to look for in writing questions:

    • Verbs: tense, agreement (singular or plural forms)

    • Pronouns: case (they or them or their and so forth), agreement (singular or plural), logical and clear meaning

    • Sentences: completeness (no fragments or run-ons), parallel structure (elements with the same role in the sentence have the same grammatical identity), proper punctuation

    • Descriptions: clear, close to the word described

    • Comparisons: logical and complete

    • Nonstandard expressions: no slang — proper English only!

    • Logical structure (in paragraph-improvement questions): unified paragraphs, logical movement from one idea to another, good introduction and conclusion, specific instead of vague, general statements

  • Helpful hints for critical reading questions:

    • Sentence completions: Underline key words. Mentally insert your own word into the blank and look for a match in the answer choices. Check both blanks of a two-blank question before settling on an answer.

    • Passage-based questions: Skim the introductory material and question stems. Read the passage, jotting notes in the margin and underlining key points. Answer the questions.

  • Techniques to remember for mathematics questions:

    • Use your calculator for basic operations (adding, dividing, square roots, and so forth), but don’t forget to apply logic and formulas as needed to determine an answer.

    • Sketch diagrams for geometry, time/rate/distance, and other problems.

    • Grid-in decimals or fractions but not mixed numbers (3-1/2 will be read as 31/2). Don’t round off an answer (bubble .338, not .34).

    • Plug in a number to check your logic. For example, in a percent problem about a sale price, plug in $100 for the original price and work from there.

    • Ballpark the answer by thinking about what may be a reasonable answer. Then check the answer you came up with by working on the problem. If your answer is out of the ballpark, recheck. For example, if you ballpark a 10% discount and calculate a 90% discount, something may be wrong.

    • Back-solve by inserting answer choices into the question, starting with Choice (C). Move to a smaller or larger answer choice depending on the results of that calculation.

    • Use the process of elimination to cross off obviously wrong answers.