PSAT Study Guide

Preparing for the PSAT is an important step on a student’s academic journey. Use our PSAT study guide below to prepare for this exam. 

Think of the PSAT as a gateway exam for acing the SAT. This test is designed to prepare you for the life-changing SAT.

The biggest benefit of the PSAT is that it’s a positive step in applying for National Merit. This scholarship program awards $2,500 in scholarships to top scorers. 

This PSAT study guide will show you how to ace this important test. Give yourself the best chance at landing that scholarship!  

Summary: Review our PSAT study guide to get a better idea of what to study for this exam.

PSAT Study Guide

The PSAT is formatted into four specific categories – Math (with and without calculator), Reading, and Language tests. Let’s dive deeper into each of these topics to develop a study plan. 

PSAT Math (Calculator and No Calculator)

The math section is technically two parts, one allows the use of calculators and the other bans calculators. The test is designed to determine your knowledge of mathematics and your ability to do the calculations on your own.

Both sections test the same concepts so you’ll need to have an advanced understanding of these four areas:

  • Basic Concepts of Algebra
  • Data Analytics
  • Problem Solving 
  • Advanced Mathematics

This section will also have two questions that are outside of these topics. 

While students don’t actually have to memorize any formulas to ace this test, they will have to possess the skills to put those formulas to use. The test normally provides the exact formulas but there are times when the student will have to choose between different ones to solve the problem. 

Here are the specific mathematical concepts you need to study:

PSAT Formulas

PSAT Reading

The reading section of the PSAT consists of five unique passages. Students will then be asked questions related to each passage. Additionally, you can expect one passage from literature, two from history, and two from science.

Finally, one “passage” will actually be two passages where you’ll have to compare the two. Some of the passages might even be followed by some form of graphic which will be part of the questions.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how you should study for this section:

  • Understand Words and Their Context
    • Interpret phrases and words
    • Analyze the choice of words
    • Analyze the structure of text
    • Identify the point of view
    • Understand the purpose of text
    • Define the argument
  • Prove your Command of Evidence
    • Read closely to understand even minor details
    • Identify evidence within the text
    • Define the central idea and theme
    • Summarize large bodies of text
    • Identify and define relationships between multiple texts
    • Analyze quantitative information
  • Author Point of View
    • First-Person
    • Second-Person
    • Third-Person
  • Author’s Purpose
    • Main Idea
    • Theme
    • Thesis
  • Text Structure
    • Chronological
    • Cause & Effect
    • Compare & Contrast
    • Problem & Solution
    • Order of Importance
  • Word Choice
    • Literary Terms
    • Metaphor
    • Simile
    • Analogy
    • Characterization

Additionally, you will need to practice these specific skills. 

  • Identification of keywords throughout text
  • Define contextual clues
  • Identify fiction vs. non-fiction
  • Comprehension of two passages
  • Finding evidence within passages
  • Using passages for predictive analysis
  • Proper use of graphics
  • Ability to make inferences
  • Analyzing arguments
  • Paraphrasing in order to summarize text
  • Identifying sentence function within a passage of text
  • How to work with homonyms

PSAT Writing and Language

This section of the PSAT is designed to evaluate a student’s command of English. You can expect to be presented with four unique passages and then you will receive 44 questions related to those passages. You’ll have to answer these questions from the perspective of the writer. 

Here’s a breakdown of areas that you need to study in order to pass this section:

  • Expression of ideas as a writer
    • Use/mastery of language
    • Correct use of sentence structure
    • Usage conventions
  • English conventions
  • Punctuation conventions
  • Command of presenting evidence
    • Development of evidence-based argument
    • Organization of evidence
    • Identify incorrect sentence structure
    • Run-on sentences
    • Sentence fragments
    • Subordination
  • Correct use of verb tense
    • Past tense
    • Present tense
    • Future tense
  • Verb mood
    • Indicative mood
    • Imperative mood
    • Subjunctive mood
    • Conditional mood
    • Infinitive mood
  • Active voice vs. passive voice
  • Ability to make logical comparisons with an argument
  • Ability to place modifiers
  • Choosing the right words to make an argument more compelling
  • Using proper punctuation
  • Evaluate written arguments for clarity
    • Learning to repair broken passages
    • Identify information that’s unnecessary
  • Sentence placement
  • Ability to use visual aids to support written arguments

Step-by-Step PSAT Study Guide

Create an efficient study plan by following these steps:

Know Your Goal

Define your goal for the PSAT. If you are trying to get a scholarship, then write that down and post it somewhere to remind yourself of that goal. This will motivate you.

Take a PSAT Practice Test

You need to know where you stand so take a practice test right away. This information is used as the foundation of your study plan. You will get a better idea of what you need to study the most. Check out our free PSAT practice tests for more help. 

Create a Study Plan

Label the above list with your practice test scores. Then plan out your daily studies starting with the lowest scoring topic. Make sure you cover every topic. It’s also important that you find a place to study that’s free of distractions. 

Take Practice Tests Every Week

This lets you know where you stand in terms of studies. You should see improvements every week but you will also get a better idea as to what your weakest areas will be in the coming test. After taking the practice test, review every missed question carefully to determine why you missed it.

Tips to Do Well on the PSAT

The next section of this PSAT study guide will reveal some amazing tips that you must follow when taking the PSAT. Practice following these tips with each practice test. 

Read the Passage Slowly and Carefully

Always read the entire passage before you even look at the questions. This important step ensures that you truly understand the entire passage so you are not tricked by the questions. While reading, try to identify the different parts of the passage. Following through will help you answer the questions more quickly and accurately. 

Furthermore, always refer back to a passage to double-check before you answer a question. 

Try Answering the Question Before you Look at Multiple Choices

Always go with your feelings on a test of this magnitude. Trust yourself. If you start second guessing every answer, then you are going to struggle. The whole point of having a PSAT study guide is be prepared but at the end of the day, you have to carry that confidence into the test.

Move to Another Question if You Get Stuck

Never spend more than a minute on a single question. If you cannot answer it in that time, move onto the next. Then come back to the questions you skipped and answer as many as you can. At worst, use the process of elimination and guess on questions you’re unsure about.

Key Takeaways

Students who want to perform best need to create a study plan and then follow through with it. This starts by taking a PSAT practice test and using it as the foundation for the overall plan. But understanding the format of the test is also important because it also helps guide your studies. 

Overall, this PSAT study guide emphasizes efficient, guided studies in order to achieve your best.

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